One of the toughest situations athletes have to endure is being “cut.” At such times, sports act as a double-edged sword, cutting deep and cutting two ways. Athletes can either be cut from the team by the coach or cut open by a surgeon. They find themselves fearful, anxious or depressed. Some may wonder if they will ever play again. How will they fill the void in their lives after the games are over? This is a question many athletes prefer not to consider.
Believe me, I understand their dilemma. Having been cut from four teams and having gone under the knife on three occasions, I unfortunately qualify as an expert on the subject. Many athletes experience problems that have to do with these issues.
Do you have a son or daughter who is dealing with such an experience? Has their personality undergone a change for the worse? Have they become distant and apathetic about life? Are they angry or depressed?
Parents, imagine your son as a star football player who permanently injures his knee midway through his senior season of high school football. Goodbye to the college scholarship. Forget the dream of playing pro ball. Life as he knew it has come to an abrupt end. As a result, you have sought counseling for your son because you are afraid of losing him. He has become sullen and withdrawn. Six months after the injury he seems to be getting worse instead of better. That happy and confident son is disappearing into a fog of self-pity and despair. You want to help him find his way back before he gets lost in the darkness.
This is a sad but not uncommon situation. Unfortunately, many athletes have allowed their personal value to be based on their identity in a sport; the sport becomes a primary source of identity. When sports are taken away, the identity evaporates and life can appear meaningless. Anger, depression, and self-destructive behavior can follow. If this sounds like your child, don’t lose hope.
Being an exceptional athlete, your child’s life has been influenced and controlled by others. Many of the coaches, teachers and peers treated him or her as a special person. As a result, he or she may have learned to live in response to these expectations. Instead of making the best choice for him or her, decisions are made based on the expectations of others in order to perpetuate the special treatment and attention.
If life has been exclusively focused on athletic pursuits, your child may not have any concept of himself or herself other than as an athlete. Encourage your child to focus on strengths and abilities that are unrelated to sports. Your child might possess unknown talents and interests that were never discovered because of overemphasis on sports.
No longer living to meet the expectations of others, self worth now needs to come from another source. It is essential that your son or daughter learn to make decisions based on need and desire. The parents should help and encourage their child as they embark on this difficult and frightening journey to discover themselves anew. They need to find new reasons to feel good about themselves, reasons that are not contingent on the adulation of others. Patiently work with him or her so that he or she can eventually come to believe that there is indeed life after sports. As parents, you need to offer unconditional love and support even when your efforts are rejected.
Your task will not be easy. But if you remain consistent with your love and commitment, your child can reach a level of maturity that would eclipse whatever character building experiences he or she might have gained from the experience in athletics.