Kate is a member of our Mental Performance Team and has a message for student-athletes who lost their seasons due to the current World Health Crisis.
In my final year at The College of the Holy Cross, I was told to never play in another competitive lacrosse game – It’s too dangerous. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a game against Boston University. A defender hit me in the head with her stick resulting in whiplash, dizziness, and constant headaches. I was told to give my brain time to heal. I went to the best doctors in Massachusetts to receive treatment for a concussion, hoping to simply feel like myself again. After a year of therapies, my neurologist told me I could never play a contact sport again.
I began playing lacrosse in third grade. When I was young, I played every sport imaginable and even played on competitive boys’ teams in order to push myself to become the best athlete I could be. When I got to high school, I chose to play soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. Being an athlete was all I knew – it was fused with my identity. When I left my jersey on the doorknob of my Coach’s office, I immediately thought, “Well, what now?” I walked away hoping that as one door closed another one would open.
At this time, hundreds of student-athletes are suffering from the loss of their seasons. They didn’t know the most recent game they played would be their final game. It is difficult enough for athletes as they approach the last competitive game of their life, but now, student-athletes were unable to knowingly put their uniforms on one last time. So, what now?
In order to truly understand what the current class of senior athletes are thinking and feeling at this time, I communicated with one of the Women’s Lacrosse Senior Captain’s at an NCAA Division I school. She described what it was like hearing she would no longer get to finish her senior year as a student-athlete. She explained she started her day getting ready to leave for a team trip to Nashville, but several hours later everything was over, including her last season, her athletic career, and her collegiate undergraduate experience. She and her closest friends were faced with a harsh reality.
As a National Certified Counselor and Mental Performance Coach at Inspire Wellness, I have made it my mission to help student-athletes experiencing problems related to their performance and mental health. Our Mental Performance Team at Inspire works with professional, college, and high school athletes. We have created a guide for all athletes who are navigating the loss of their athletic careers:
Recognize how you are feeling during this abrupt, transitional time in your life. As athletes you often indirectly receive the message to avoid feeling. Push through the pain, right? Well, that old-school style of thinking is not beneficial to your mental health and wellness. Now, is a time to grieve the loss of your sport. It is the time to allow yourself to feel every emotion you are experiencing. Some of you may be deeply saddened by the loss of your season, others may feel relieved. There are no right or wrong emotions in this scenario. In addition to acknowledging your emotions, reflect on your athletic identity. Many student-athletes may be dealing with a sudden shift in their identity. Normally, athletes have the opportunity to gradually grieve and shift to a new self-identity after their competitive season. This current situation is quite different.
Seek support. At Inspire Wellness, we offer individual and group therapy for student-athletes in order to help them reach an optimal state of wellness. We provide performers with strategies to improve their mindset. Athletes are prone to all the usual difficulties that humans experience. In fact, because athletes are often exposed to higher levels of pressure, they are even more at-risk. This is an unfamiliar and uncertain time for many, if not all of us. Seek therapeutic services. Seek support from friends and family. Reach out to teammates and coaches to connect on a personal level.
Identify your strengths. How has your training as an athlete provided you with the skills/habits you need to overcome life’s difficulties? What skills can you transfer into your everyday life? Have confidence in your ability to be resilient. As student-athletes you have dealt with adversity before. Resilience is one’s capacity to cope effectively with setbacks, obstacles, failures, and challenges. Life is providing you with a setback at the moment – how will you overcome this setback? Your resilience was tested every single day as an athlete. Learn to embrace your strengths and find peace in knowing these strengths can help you in other areas of your life.
Focus on what you can control. President John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two-characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” You can choose to focus on what is lost – the danger, or you can focus your energy on what can be gained – the opportunity. Though you cannot control everything, you can control where you place your focus.
Finally, think big picture. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing devasting problems around the world. This is bigger than sports.
I asked the previously mentioned collegiate student-athlete what advice she would give to younger athletes right now. I believe her perspective is worth sharing, she said, “I would tell them that at the end of the day, your time playing sports is finite. You don’t get to play forever. Give it your all…but at the same time be sure to take a step back and remember you are so much more than your sport.”
For the student-athletes reading this, I hope you can have faith as you close the door on your athletic career, another door will open and you will carry all of the lessons you have learned through sports into the next opportunity that presents itself. Life will go on, you can’t control that; however, you can control how you choose to respond in each moment.
We will continue to provide mental skills on how to handle this uncertain time on our Inspire Wellness Psychology social media sites. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to share your thoughts, you have a question you would like us to address, or if you are interested in learning more about how to grow through mental performance strategies.