Becoming Sidelined: The Loss of Athletic Identity
A Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition - Part 3 Finding Your Voice in the Aftermath
For athletes forced to discontinue their sport due to injury or health condition, the mental journey towards acceptance and internal healing can be confusing, complicated, and flat out brutal.
Permanently-sidelined athletes have described their grief as feeling as though a part of them has died. Sports psychologists refer to this as “losing the athletic identity”. One of the hardest parts of processing the loss of ability to compete in sport is feeling like you don’t know who you are without your sport.
Becoming Sidelined: Common and Uncommon Factors
Receiving the news of forced sport discontinuation can be devastating to an athlete. The reality of being permanently-sidelined from the sport you love may force you to confront many new challenges you may not have faced before.
This article is here to help break down and assess your situation as a permanently-sidelined athlete and help you find your voice to get the support you need.
Understanding the Grief Process for Sidelined Athletes
There are many different scenarios an athlete can experience which may lead to being permanently sidelined from their sport. As athletic trainers, we often find ourselves as the first responders to many of these injuries or situations. Most people associate being sidelined with a catastrophic injury that happens in an instant. However, several times we are forced to have a conversation regarding long term dysfunction and quality of life with our athletes and in most cases their parents as well.
10 Ways to Help Permanently Sidelined Athletes
Permanently sidelined athletes can expect to go through a grieving process as they adjust to their new reality of life beyond their sport. Research shows that most sidelined athletes experience the same stages of grief. Understanding what an athlete can expect to experience when coping with the loss of his/her sport can be a powerful piece of knowledge, both for the athlete and his/her family.
A Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition - Part 2 The Down Period: What to Expect
Whether you are a friend, family member, teammate, athletic trainer, or coach of an athlete who has recently been permanently sidelined, the grief of the sidelined athlete can weigh heavy on you as well. You want to help but it can be tough to know what to say or how to ease the pain of the athlete who has experienced such a devastating loss. Following these research-based guidelines, you can support the permanently sidelined athlete in navigating a healthy adjustment to his or her new reality and have a positive impact in the athlete’s emotional recovery.
Recommendations for the Permanently Sidelined Athlete
Following their injuries, sidelined athletes go through a period of sadness, characterized by low energy, lack of motivation, inactivity, and withdrawal. This is a natural and necessary phase which sidelined athletes must go through in order to come to terms with the significance of their loss. The question then begs, what can one expect in this period? How long does this period last? Going through the Down Period blind and alone can further the athlete's depression.
10 Things NOT to Say to an Athlete Who Has Recently Become Permanently Sidelined
It is normal and healthy to experience a period of sadness following a career-ending injury. Take some time to come to terms with what has happened. It will help you to move forward when you’re ready.
Talk about it. It can be beneficial to express your feelings to someone that you trust.
Identify those people who can provide support and encouragement in coping with your injury.
A Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition - Part 1 Path to Recovery
Someone in your life has recently been told that he or she has to give up competing in their sport. They’ve had one too many ACL tears. One too many concussions. A severe neck injury. Or maybe they’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition that is too risky to continue competing. Whatever the case may be, someone you care about has just received devastating news. Their whole world has been upended and chances are they are experiencing a host of emotions ranging from denial to rage. It’s a situation you may not feel prepared for. It’s tough to know exactly how to respond.
We found this chart to be very helpful and true to our experience in finding a way forward after being sidelined. This is a research-based path recommendation for sidelined athletes by counselor in sports psychology, Matt Brown. This recommendation was designed after interviewing and studying sidelined athletes and their responses to career-ending injury.