Life After Basketball & Breaking Mental Barriers: Featuring Keesa K

For athletes, adjusting to life after your playing career can be a struggle, whether they show it or not. For many of us, we are introduced to sports at a very young age. Someone gives us a ball and we run with it as far as it can take us. 

Then the end comes. For elite athletes who have dedicated their lives to sport, what happens now?

For many, it's a state of confusion, Post-Playing Depression (PPD) starts to kick in without us having anywhere or anyone to turn to because we don't even realize what's happening. PPD can take place in many different shapes and forms for an individual, it affects people differently.

Keesa K, founder of HoopQueensTO, took time to open up about what PPD looked like for her, the effects, overcoming it, her current business ventures, and how she's working to bring awareness to this topic.

The Onset 

Keesa graduating from Nipissing University

Keesa has been around the game of basketball for many years, most recently graduating from Nipissing University in 2019 with a BBA, after spending 3 years with the Women’s Varsity Basketball program. Basketball became synonymous with her life, but it was a moment late in her 2018 season where she realized the end is near. She tore her ACL and things were never the same for her, “That summer was the hardest... It was a mental hurdle. I remember every single workout, every single song” trying to get healthy enough to play her senior year.

Fast forward to Feb 2019, senior night, and the feelings experienced was mixed emotions. Physically is was relief that her body held up for the season and she made it to the end.

“It was kind of a breath of fresh air... I didn't know how this was going to go but my body was thankful.”

 
Emotionally the realization was the opposite.
 

“Mentally I started crying because I’m like wow this is the last competitive basketball game I'm a part of.”

 
After her last game, Keesa was looking forward to finishing up her degree that spring and graduating, into what would be an exciting shift for her life. But this wasn’t the case, she ran into unforeseen problems related to PPD.

Post Grad Experience

Summer 2019 was one that Keesa had high hopes for and made the most out of. It was the first summer in years which she could enjoy, because she just graduated and didn't have school or basketball priorities to attend to over the summer and into the fall.

But those high hopes quickly came to an end when summer was winding down and the realization kicked in that she didn't have a training camp to attend to in August.

Starting in September it was just 9-5 work, without school or basketball goals to strive for, that was a tough transition.

“I'm just working. I literally have nothing else to do... This felt weird, it felt so uncomfortable for me… Even working out, it felt weird being alone because I'm usually working out with my teammates.”

 
This was just the beginning of her challenges with PPD as she soon found herself very unmotivated to workout or able to get herself going.
 

“I wasn't able to pick myself up mentally… in school I had an end all goal, I want to graduate. I had basketball goals and school goals but life goals I didn't really think of.”

Keesa K. Founder of HoopQueens TO
 
Every morning was a feeling of not knowing what to accomplish that day, without an end goal in sight. This feeling triggered Keesa to cope by oversleeping rather than doing other activities.
 

“I was literally just sleeping so I didn’t think about other things. So I didn’t think about how things aren’t working for me… Every morning I just wake up to work, then go home and sleep. Then do the same thing day after day.”


Eventually this routine, or lack thereof, led its way into personal relationships in a negative way. Being easily irritated because things weren't working out the way she planned, friends and family were often walking on eggshells.
 

“I think it affected a lot of the relationships around me, because they know I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform and execute things… I had to open up about anxiety.”

 
Addressing and voicing that anxiety attacks are real and come from time to time, helps keep things in perspective, that what she’s going through isn't uncommon. This was just one of the steps it took to overcome this feeling of PPD.

Overcoming Post-Playing Depression

“Doing things that I love” was the first thing that came to mind when asked what got her out of her PPD. In December she began coaching and working with youth around the game of basketball, which changed her perspective on things.

“This is really fulfilling, I love the aspect of helping and mentoring young people to become greater… I think this is my calling.”

 

Also realizing that little steps forward are W’s that count just as much as big steps. Giving yourself credit for what you have done, rather than what you haven't done, helps keep things in perspective that you're making progress. 

Keesa K HoopQueensTO

Opening up and talking more to those around her was a huge outlet that was essential to overcoming this hurdle.

“That was a major thing for me on how to get out of it. I started to talk more and open up. Saying hey I'm going through a lot or I've been thinking about this.”

 
After doing a lot of self reflection, Keesa found herself in a much better state of mind and ready to take on new responsibilities. A new growth mindset led her to figure out her next steps to assume a bigger role in mentoring young people. Which led to the creation of the network HoopQueensTO and financial literacy page urfinancefriend.

HoopQueens TO

What started off in the summer as high level basketball runs for women, quickly evolved and grew to take a meaning of its own within the women-led basketball community. It became a network of Canadian female basketball players, who provide women-led opportunities to lead, learn and compete. It is a space that Keesa developed to foster relationships and belief between women of all ages.

“Representation matters… I want those young girls and even those pros to see that after basketball you can still have a life of opportunity.”

 

The feedback and response since the summer has been overwhelming and things are growing quickly for this community. The future for HoopQueensTO is much bigger than a basketball run, it’s a community for women to come together, learn from each other, conduct workshops, and take what they learn back home to influence those around them. 

HoopQueens Toronto group photo at The Playground

Keesa created HQTO because of what she has experienced as a high level basketball player returning back home, and keeps in mind that she isn’t the only one out there dealing with these things.

 “I started HQTO because of the things I went through. I never had a place to hoop after basketball... I want the workshops to be about financial literacy and entrepreneurship.”

 

Creating something positive goes back to “Doing things I love” that helped Keesa in a big way step out of her PPD. It’s an experience that she can look back on and provide advice to someone going through similar feelings.

Advice to Those Dealing With PPD

The first thing that came to mind was communication. What makes PPD hard to deal with is that in the moment you may not recognize that it's affecting you and that is scary. But by opening it up about what you're experiencing day to day, it’ll help others recognize the signs for you.

“I would tell them to talk to their friends sooner. I held it in for too long, I thought that I was alone and that no one would understand.”

 

The daily toll PPD takes on you will have you thinking that you aren’t accomplishing anything productive or worthwhile. It's important to practice self-compassion and realize that small wins are still wins and they add up.

“Small wins are big wins.. even if you don’t feel like it’s a small win. At least you got up and worked out or got breakfast or meal prepped.” 

 

The best piece of advice however, is one to keep in mind for all ages, whether young or old and it'll help you when your time comes. You are much more than a basketball player.

“Recognize that there is something after basketball… you CANT let the sport define you”

 

If there is one take away for readers, this would be it. In whatever dominates your life right now, understand that it does not define your life, you are complex and talented at many different things.


Extras

  1. Have you or someone around you dealt with any forms of PPD? Let us know what it was like in the comments.
  2. Keep up to date with HoopQueensTO community initiatives and show them support @hoopqueenst.o
  3. Follow Keesa K entrepreneurial journey @keesa.k
   
 
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