A Message To Athletes: Playing Ball Isn't 'Life'

05/18/2017 11:42 am ET Updated May 18, 2017

There is a well known saying that is readily thrown around these days that goes by “Ball Is Life.” Whether it is on commercials, on social media or said on the playground, it has slowly become a lifestyle, not just a saying. This saying has been embedded in the minds of many young athletes within recent years, almost leading them to believe that they have no other choices in life. It might seem like it is just a saying, but it is not outrageous to think that it does hold some weight in the minds of many athletes, young and old.

As a young kid, I could definitely resonate with this as basketball was the only thing I ever saw myself wanting to do in life. Being a professional athlete was all I wanted to be. It was all I cared about, all I loved and all I put my energy into for 15 plus years of my life. I didn’t know anything else and didn’t really think about anything else. Now, as I am older and on the back end of my playing days, I find myself asking was it really “life”? I mean it was certainly worth every minute of sacrifice, pain and adversity in it all. It was worth every game, practice and relationship I built as well. I wouldn’t trade those years for the world, but I do realize that basketball wasn’t “life.” What I did for all of those years, wasn’t who I was.

Why Playing Ball Isn’t Life

I look at it now, and I’ve grown to realize the absurdity in this statement. We, as in society, push this saying around implying that if you can dribble, throw a ball or run fast, that’s all you need to make a way for yourself in this world. It seems like we’re instituting a narrative that indirectly states “the game is the only way out” or something along the lines of “if you’re not playing, you’re really not living.” Essentially it’s “do this and only this, everything else will work out.” Even when we all know that’s not really how life works at all. All this leads to is a tunnel vision mindset that leaves athletes unprepared and fearful about their lives after they’re done playing sports.

Nobody is ever just identified with one thing. We aren’t conformed into one persona, or defined by one instance even at a young age. Everyone has other interests, likes and passions. When we are young, we might not know how to cultivate those other interests or might not have as much fun with them as we do with sports. Maybe the case was that sports are so forced upon us and anything other than being an athlete was unacceptable. From athlete to athlete, situation to situation, or whatever the case might have been, deep down we all knew we really weren’t just athletes. We were and still are unique individuals made up of a multitude of passions and talents.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with riding the athlete wave through high school, college and even the pros, if you are blessed enough make it and have that opportunity. Chase your dreams. Shoot, I did it myself. Though, the one thing you cannot ride it through, is your entire life. There comes a day for every single athlete in this world, where the curtains will close and the next chapter in life begins.

It is for this reason alone that we have to stop feeding and giving life to this “Ball Is Life” belief. The reality is that it’s not life and never will be. It might always be a huge part of your life, but you are much bigger than a game. You are destined for greater things down the line and the most impactful gift we can give our young and even older athletes is the truth about sports. They are more than just athletes. They are people who are made up of many traits, skills and identities. Being a multi-faceted and well rounded athlete will always be more interesting and appealing to anyone you come into contact with for the rest of your life anyway. You have to give yourself a chance to develop in other areas of life. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Trust me, your life almost depends on it.

Malcolm Lemmons is a former athlete turned entrepreneur, author and speaker. He now uses his experiences to help athletes transition through different phases of their careers and prepare for life after sports. To check out more from Malcolm, connect with him on Twitter, & Instagram @MalcolmLemmons

CONVERSATIONS