Having the chance to play ball overseas is an opportunity of a lifetime for so many athletes. You get paid to play the game you love while experiencing a new culture, getting stamps in your passport, and essentially living a different life than what you’re used to.
But what happens when you come back home? Do you have plans for your next steps after your playing career is over? The truth is, no matter how elite you are as a ball player or how much you enjoy the game, retirement still comes for every athlete.
If you’re preparing for or just starting your career overseas, you may think it’s way too early to start thinking about what’s next. But this is a perfect time because you HAVE the time. You don’t have the pressure of already being back home with no prospects or opportunities. Laying out a game plan early allows you to vet different ideas for the future and land on what’s right for you, vs. what’s right there.
But what steps can you take right now to plan for your next chapter? I’ve got three for you:
Start exploring your strengths and interests. You are more than a basketball player, so now’s the time to look at what other activities you may enjoy in your downtime or the off-season. Don’t feel like you have any interests outside of basketball? Think about where you spend your time online, what you read or listen to, and how you pass the time when you come home from practice or games. Also, think about what you consider to be your best skills and what people ask you to help them with or come to you for advice.
And don’t feel like you have to do this exercise in isolation. Talk to your family and friends to get their perspectives on your abilities and strengths. You can also work with a life or career transition coach who can help you evaluate potential career paths that may be a fit for you. Your coach can also advise you on opportunities to pursue while overseas and in between seasons to further build your professional/business experience.
Build and expand your network. Some of the best people who can advise on finding what’s next after sports are those who have already made the transition. Take the time to find and talk with other players to hear their stories and the lessons they can share about the transition process. In addition, you most likely already have a wide network you haven’t even thought about. Beyond players, you know coaches, trainers, professors, counselors, etc.
These are individuals who can all provide insight to help you make your next move. Additionally, they may be able to point you directly to future opportunities or connect you to contacts outside the sports space so you can learn more about different career options. You may have heard this before: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” When it comes to preparing for a new career, having the right network can open doors for you that may appear to be walls for everyone else.
Save your money! Fun fact: I come from a finance and accounting background, not HR, so I have to put some extra emphasis on this one. Even if you can only save a few dollars at a time (we know all overseas salaries are not created equal), do the best you can to put at least some money away. You have no idea how long your playing career will be or the terms of your contracts as you may end up playing for different teams while overseas. After making the personal sacrifice to play far away from your loved ones, you want to have something to show for it beyond just the experience and the resume.
Having money in the bank sets you up to have the freedom to walk away if it comes to a point when playing no longer feels right to you. Whether it’s for mental health reasons or reprioritizing your values, there could come a time when you voluntarily decide “this is it.” The money then provides you with some cushion for your return home (or if you choose to stay abroad) so you don’t have to take just any job out of desperation or necessity.
One of my favorite sayings is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” When you have your own money, you can better keep control of your career, your future, and your life.