3 tips to navigate the off season as a free agent professional athlete
Here are some tips to help you manage what can often be a stressful time.
At some point in your professional career, you’ll most likely reach this point, free agency. Whether you want to be there, or you’re forced into it, the journey can be a tough one for multiple reasons. Check out some of the advice I have for aspiring or current professionals who are going through the uncertainty of free agency.
Patience is a virtue
The offseason can feel like it goes on forever. Whether your team ended their season early or made it all the way to the championship; regardless, the time in between seasons can be long. It can feel like an eternity when you are a professional athlete who is out of contract. The internal questions swirl through your head every second of every passing day. Is my phone going to ring today? Will my agent contact me with good news? Will I ever find a team? So many thoughts that stir up anxious and uneasy feelings.
I’ve been there plenty of times. In the world of lower division soccer, where contracts are often shorter than most want and stability is hard to find, it’s an all-too-common reality for most athletes. You just have to be patient. You most likely aren’t going to get the answers or clarity you want exactly when you want it. One season ends and everyone immediately wants to know what their next move will be. It’s understandable. No one wants to spend an entire offseason training and staying fit but not knowing what the next move will be.
That player got signed before me?! — every free agent athlete.
It’s an experience I’ve had over and over again. At the end of the 2013 season, I spent most of my offseason sorting out and then recovering from surgery. I was out of contract, had a less than impressive playing resume, and very little interest from any teams. I spent the entire offseason waiting and hoping but hearing very little. The main reason I got through that off season was because I put all of my focus into rehabbing and getting back healthy. Whether I was going to play again or not was irrelevant. I simply wanted to be back to my old self again.
If you don’t immediately have contract offers thrown your way, don’t panic. I used to scour the internet, read about all the other players getting signed, and get really anxious. It’s not beneficial for you and it isn’t going to change your situation. The opportunity will come, just not always when you expect it. Stay prepared and focus on what you can control.
Teams are working on their budgets. — common agent phrase.
I spent the entire 2017 offseason depressed and uncertain about what I wanted to do. I was one season removed from winning a championship, goalkeeper of the year, and being named first-team all-league. One bad season later and now all of a sudden, my phone was bone dry. Preseasons were starting left and right, yet I was still in my hometown training with no real options. I finally ended up signing a contract in mid-February and went straight into preseason but the almost four months leading up to that were torture. Just remember, the opportunities are there, and they will come. Be patient and control the controllables. You’ll be just fine.
2. Take responsibility
Patience is really important when navigating the off season but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive. This is your career, and no one is going to care about it more than you. You may have an agent and that is great but that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize your own resources to find opportunities. Being diligent and doing your own research can be extremely helpful.
I’m not sure if my agent is even doing anything. — every free agent athlete
There is nothing wrong with contacting your own network to see what options there are on the market. Sometimes, this can be the easiest way to get an opportunity with a team. Knowing a coach, GM, or even a player, can get your foot in the door and lead to some great connections. In the age of social media, it’s easier than ever before to find contact information and reach out to people. Do your own research. See which teams have needs that you can fill.
Agents can be very beneficial, especially when it comes to contract negotiations. Relying solely on an agent, who most likely has multiple clients to focus on, is doing yourself a disservice. I’ve had multiple opportunities arise throughout my career simply by utilizing my connections. I trained with the Houston Dynamo in 2017 because of a mutual friend. I went without an agent in 2018 and signed a contract in Charlotte because of my relationship with a coach.
I should have something for you in the next couple weeks. — common agent phrase
Don’t misread this. I’m not telling you to go without an agent. I’m not telling you to undermine your agent. I’m telling you to utilize all of your resources. These can be former high school, college, or professional coaches that may have connections at certain professional clubs. Hounding former teammates to get you a tryout is never advisable but asking for contact information isn’t as abrasive. If you aren’t comfortable with that, why not simply shoot your shot? Slide in some dm’s and see what happens. There are multiple ways to get in contact with people these days. If you don’t do it, somebody else will.
3. Confidence is the key to success
Free agency is a stressful time, especially when you aren’t getting paid. Getting up every day and putting the work in at the gym or on the field without an end goal in sight can be really hard. For me, the only way I was able to get through multiple tough off seasons was to stay confident in who I am as a person and as an athlete.
Am I ever going to get another opportunity? — every free agent athlete
In 2014, when I was out of contract and barely had a resume to present to my agent, I knew I had to prove myself. I knew I was good enough to play at that level and that I just needed the opportunity. I remembered every practice the previous two seasons when I performed at a really high level. I remembered the few games that I had played and how I was improving every time. I knew I had more to learn and more to give. I wasn’t going to fold just because times got tough.
You may not have a lot to go off of in terms of memories but at some point, in your athletic journey, you’ve excelled. It’s almost impossible to reach the professional level of sports without being outstanding somewhere along your journey. Remember how you got there. Be confident in who you are as an athlete. Stay true to who you are as a person.
There are a lot of free agents out there this off season. — common agent phrase
I’ve pretty much seen it all. In my 10-year career, I experienced some great highs and some really low points. I understand the feeling of having multiple offers at your fingertips the moment the season ends. I also know what it’s like to spend most of the off season staring at the phone trying to will it to ring. It’s extremely hard, but just know that you will get through it all and come out better on the other side. It may take longer than you would like but staying confident is the key to success.
If you want more tips or advice about how to navigate the professional athlete world, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. You can also check out some of our free resources available in our athlete community HERE or head over to my website and explore all the great information available there!