To An Athlete Dying Young – Tips for Life After Sport

There is nothing harder than knowing when it is time to be an athlete no longer. The famous poem called To an Athlete Dying Young puts everything so perfectly into spoken word poetry that can speak to the soul of every athlete.  The reason that being an athlete is hard to walk away from is because there is a fear that people will never cheat you on in the same way again. It is hard to believe that you can do anything else that would make your name as renown as it is now or once was. You are faced with the decision of bowing out in your prime while you are on top or waiting to fall off and be forgotten. In the Dark Knight, Harvey Dent said: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The words could not ring any truer. Here is the poem To an Athlete Dying Young. 


To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland is briefer than a girl’s.

To An Athlete Dying Young – Walk Away Earlier

To An Athlete Dying Young - Barry Sanders
Every football fan knows of Barry Sanders. He is arguably the greatest football player ever, and he could have gone on to break many more NFL records. He chose to retire in the prime of his career. It left Detroit Lions fans heartbroken for years. Barry was precisely what To an Athlete Dying Young was referring to.
Fans are not used to being told by athletes that they don’t want to play anymore. The reason is that fans are usually the ones who make that choice. Fans start talking about how a player has lost a step and how they are not as fun anymore. The fans that were once loyal turn on you and they want you out of town or even worse; they forget all about you. To an Athlete Dying Young is the antidote to this story that we always here.

To an Athlete Dying Young = Leave On Your Terms

To An Athlete Dying Young is referring to walking away from what you love before you honor has run out. The goal is to avoid being outrun by having a renown name. When you leave like Barry Sanders, the legend goes with you for life because no one can ever say they saw Barry Sanders on the decline. His legend only has room for his greatness.

Why is To Any Athlete Dying Young so Relevant Today?

The poem is relevant today because of a lot of the mental health issues that we are currently seeing in the athlete world today. I had a childhood friend I grew up with commit suicide, and there have been way too many similar stories. The hardest decision any athlete must make stems from not knowing when to retire and figuring out what to do after retirement. I wanted to leave anyone in this current spot with some tips on moving forward.

As an Olympic track and field athlete, I learned quickly that as quickly as the spotlight comes, it can be taken away just as fast. The spotlight is not loyal, and neither is the world of sports. You have to take care of yourself by preparing yourself for retirement. I was able to retire and not look back for a second for these reasons. I lived out my version of To An Athlete Dying Young but focusing on what I could do outside of sports. When it was my time, I did not look back.

Tips For Retiring From Sports Based On My Thoughts From To an Athlete Dying Young

Treat Every Opportunity Like It is Your Last

One day you will be right, and the opportunity you have will be your last as an athlete. Then you will have another chance that will be your last in life. This is a great way to live life and make the most of everything that you do.

When you are at practice or competitions, enjoy it all. Not just the winning but the friendships you build, having a coach, team trips because these are things that you will miss the most. The wins are secondary when you look back on it all.

When you walk away from the game, you want to know that you have used every piece of talent you could. Don’t retire with any left because if you do, you will leave you questioning what could have been and

Build a Passion In Other Areas – To an Athlete Dying Young

You have to start looking for other areas that you are interested in while you are still an athlete. For me it was entrepreneurship, and that was what led me to start Kho Health. I started running track when I was seven years old; I could not just put in 16 years to running and then all of a sudden retire with no other passion. It will leave you empty, and most athletes are used to being passionate about what they put their time into.

It is essential that you start this process early. When you wait until you are retired to start, it is too late because the moment is upon you. You want this new passion to be so strong that it passes what you have for your sport. It makes walking away make a lot more sense because there is something great already waiting for you.

Talk About It Often

You have to talk about it with the people you love. Make them aware that you think about it all of the time and that you will need their support when that day comes. You cannot tackle this alone because a lot of yourself esteem as an athlete was built up by your support team. It is your friends and family that watch you play, and deep down you feel like when you leave the game, they may not cheer you on in life. They will, but it will just be in a much different way, and that is a good thing!

The more you talk about it and put this day on your brain, the more you will prepare for it. The more time you spend preparing for, the more you will be ready for it. Some might say too much time preparing for it is a distraction from the goal of playing as long as possible and I call BS. When you are an NCAA athlete, you spend a lot of your time in the classroom, in study hall and with mentors making sure you get that degree so that you have something to fall on outside of sports. It is more than possible to work on being a successful athlete and preparing for life after it.

Find Mastery In Other Skills

When I think back on my career, I think about how many accelerations I did as a sprinter in my 16-year career. It is mastery, one movement that I worked on 20-30 times every practice, six days a week, 11 months a year for 16 years. Humans crave mastery! We have a desire to do things we are good at and to continue to improve.

When you find that passion outside of being an athlete, it is vital that you find something to master. You need something that is worth throwing your all into studying until you can say that you are one of the best.


Will you set sail on your career in your prime like To an athlete dying young, or will you wait for the sport to stop loving you and push you out? 


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