So You Were a High School Athlete
How to emotionally and physically come to grips with your new life as a Non-Athletic Regular Person (NARP).
By Molly Burke, University of Texas at Austin
As any athlete knows, there comes a time when one must hang up the no-longer-DRI-Fits and say goodbye to the life of athletics.
For many of us, this happens when we go off to college, having finally prioritized academics or simply having had our fill of “incentive burpees” (it’s not punishment if it’s making you better!). It means succumbing to the life of the NARP-the Non-Athletic Regular Person.
In college, the term tends to be directed at anyone not involved in varsity athletics. This label can be particularly devastating for Texans, who grow up believing that “ball is life” was written into the Pledge of Allegiance.
In a state that elevates sport to existential necessity, it can be difficult to identify as anything but an athlete. And for that defiance, you can’t help but secretly admire NARPs. However, for years you have painstakingly distinguished yourself from that cadre of anti-Herculean plebes, and for good reason.
In high school, NARPs were most often found failing the FitnessGram and spitting on their interlocutors. Meanwhile, you ruled the school, savoring all the benefits of being a student athlete: enjoying early departures on game days, effortlessly snowing smitten teachers, and extorting clean urine samples from freshmen on drug testing days.
It can be a rough transition though, and no matter how well you think you’ve prepared yourself for the NARP life, you’ll fall victim to triggers every once in a halftime performance. So, to help you cope with the fact that you’ve ankle-rolled over the finish line of your athletic career, here is a guide to preserving your dignity as a newly-minted NARP.
Common knowledge dictates that the first step to modifying behavior is admitting you have a problem. And that problem is that you are not among the combined 7.2 percent of all high school volleyball players who are athletically gifted enough to play in the NCAA.
Or the 5.1 percent of female high school softball players. Or the 3.4 percent of all male high school basketball players. Need I go on? Because I can. There’s a chart.
To put those odds in perspective, you’d have better luck getting into Harvard than taking your game to the collegiate level. Actually, if you’re a guy with dreams of being an NCAA hockey player, you have the dramatically higher 11.2 percent chance of competing at the college level.
But only pursue this route if you’re okay with one day looking like this. Personally, I like to be in control of when I whistle, instead of being at the mercy of every errant breeze.
My point is, don’t beat yourself up for being a normal person of ordinary athletic ability. Much like Victoria’s Secret models, college and professional athletes make up a tiny fraction of the global population; you’re certainly not alone if you shed a single tear anytime you tuned into CBS this November.
But you don’t need criminally feline beauty or a superhuman vertical to be an exceptional person. Embracing the NARP life isn’t about accepting failure as a human being. It’s about finding other outlets through which to channel your talents. You should feel free to see where this takes you, unless your new hobby is probably gonna take you to federal prison.
Once you’ve faced the reality of the NARP essence flowing through your veins, it’s time to identify your triggers and adopt techniques to deal with them. Often, you may find that the simple act of seeing the varsity athletes on campus sets off an emotional tidal wave capable of derailing the most savage fifth-year water polo player.
In these instances, it’s important not to let others see the lunacy bubbling forth from your lizard brain. Take whatever actions are necessary to calm yourself down, whether it’s pausing for a few deep breaths, unleashing some passive aggression on Yik Yak, or having a good cry in the nearest bathroom.
The Daily Texan has a handy article on the best bathrooms on the UT Austin campus; I recommend the first floor of the PCL for two reasons. One, it’s so busy that no one will hear your muffled sobs, and two, the overwhelming odor due to said bustle will force you to keep your pity party short.
You may also experience discomfort during visits to your hometown, where you’ll be tempted to live vicariously through your younger siblings or the JV kids you left behind when you graduated.
I know, I know—they still have hope of becoming beastly little sports prodigies if they would only take your advice! And who am I to judge whether the sports wisdom you developed in the course of your first three months in college qualifies as profound?
Understand that the likely result of your unsolicited proselytizing is that you’ll go from Admired Big Brother to Washed-Up Drunk Uncle faster than Usain Bolt recovers from a segway collision.
So unless you’re the earthly reincarnation of Saint Sebastian of Milan, exercise a little restraint when you see potential in younger athletes. One of the many invaluable lessons you learn playing sports is self-reliance, and it’s distracting to try to develop that while someone breathes their own personal failures down your neck.
Finally, find activities to fill the gaping void in your heart and schedule. Now that you’re no longer committed to oozing sweat, blood, and tears with a pack of fellow willing participants for multiple hours each day, you might find yourself with a lot of free time and no friends.
Good news: a world exists outside the realm of running, jumping, and catching! College is the perfect time to socialize while exploring your artistic side.
Nourish your inner insufferable musical philosophe by taking a class like Music, Identity, and Difference; insert yourself into some kinky performance art, or perfect your off-tempo snapping at one of Austin’s many open mic poetry nights. Just be careful about partying with your new artiste friends—you may drunkenly agree to model for someone’s life drawing class.
If your #squadgoals are more hardcore intellectual in nature, there are options for that, too. Nothing gets the adrenaline rushing quite like spryly parrying an argumentum ad verecundiam with your moot court homies. Plus, anything in this category has the added benefit of buffing up that inevitable grad-school application.
And remember, you don’t have to give up athletic activities entirely! NARP doesn’t stand for Non-Athletic in any capacity. Yoga, frisbee golf, and light BDSM play are just a few of the myriad fitness options you may have never considered.
Of course, you’re free to continue playing your favorite sport. With pickup, intramural, and club opportunities at your disposal, you’re bound to find the caliber of play that supports your now pathetically pared-down exercise regimen.