By Cait Kemp
When I was a senior in high school, I decided that I didn’t want to play sports in college. I had always played and was a three-sport athlete throughout high school. I started to think that I just wanted to do something different and redefine my identity. I didn’t want to just play sports. I needed to find other things I was passionate about, and college was the perfect time to do it.
I had decided upon this, until one day I was in class with my high school field hockey coach, who was also the health teacher. I was talking to her after class like we usually did, discussing practice or an upcoming game. I told her that I didn’t think I wanted to play anymore, that I was content with moving on from field hockey after high school. She looked at me and said, “You have to play field hockey in college.”
Like I said, I was a three-sport athlete, so even if I did want to continue my career I wasn’t even sure what sport it would be. My coach told me that she knew I could play field hockey in college and that it was no question to her that field hockey was my sport.
From that day on, I was stuck on the idea of playing at the next level. I was already into my senior season and had not pursued any recruiting opportunities, so walking on to a team was going to be my only option.
I visited Springfield College for the first time toward the end of the field hockey season – the day of my last-ever high school game, to be exact. I had to do a shortened version of the tour since I had to get home for my game. I talked with the graduate assistant for the team and thought I could see myself playing in college. It solidified my dream to play even more.
From there, I began to email coaches from some of the schools I was interested in. My top two became Springfield and Roger Williams University. I also applied to Worcester State (too close to home), Framingham State (never even saw the campus) and Stonehill (Division II at the time, now Division I, so not a real chance at playing). I emailed the head coaches at Springfield, and RWU. I only received a response from Springfield, and quickly it became the school I wanted to go to.
Of course, I fell in love with Springfield upon another visit to campus – learning more about the Communications program and really seeing myself here. However, the thing that initially pushed me to want to come to Springfield was field hockey. The thing that I didn’t even want to keep doing was now a driving factor in my decision. And without a guaranteed spot on the team, it perhaps was a gamble. But like my coach told me that day in her classroom, I was going to play collegiate field hockey, and she was right.
I chose to continue to play, and maybe being a student-athlete was a part of my identity. However being at Springfield, a school that values athletics so much, it felt right to be on a team here. I wasn’t done playing yet and Springfield College gave me the chance to keep “athlete” as part of my characteristics. It did define me, but that wasn’t at all a bad thing like I had thought back in high school.
Fast forward four years and here I am, without the luxury of having the choice of playing anymore. Now it is time to redefine my identity. I have been an athlete for the past 15 years of my life, and suddenly, it just stops. I am lucky that I can look back and be proud of the career I have had. The cheesy thing to say is to leave it all out on the field, but I think I did just that. Field hockey brought me great lessons, values, friendships, discipline, structure and joy. Without it, my schedule will surely feel empty, but I can be so grateful for what it brought to me even in the worst moments.
As one season ends and another begins, only more “lasts” for senior athletes will come. I know the collegiate athlete experience is not uncommon, however it is a moment in our lives that we have to encounter. It’s not easy even when we know it’s coming. So here’s to great final seasons, walking away without any regrets, and redefining our identities. We’ll always be athletes, it’s just time to figure out what that means for us now.