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Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition - Part 2 The Down Period: What to Expect

by Cade Pinalto with Matt Brown, PhD

* Start HERE for Part 1 of "A Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition."

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. But we have been where you are and you don't have to go through it blind. Here are 8 research based tips on what to expect while in the Down Period. 

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1. Grieving is Needed and Good - Let it Happen

Commonly sidelined athletes will experience a period in which their emotions are depressed, isolate themselves, and attempt to come to terms with what they have lost. While the natural tendency may be to try to short cut the suffering, research shows this period of sadness is in fact, beneficial. "In short, the individual needs to hurt for a while." - Matt Brown, PhD.

2. Expect a Feeling of Uncertainty - It's Normal

"I guess I felt kind of deflated and said, 'well what am I going to do now?' It was something I'd done for so long, I enjoyed doing it." ( - Sidelined athlete). Being sidelined leaves you with a huge question mark in your life. Something that once seemed so essential in your life has suddenly and unexpectedly ended. There is a major void in your life and it is fresh. It is important for the sidelined athlete to feel this void. As painful as it can be, this is a normal part of the grieving process.

3. Take Some Time for Yourself

Personal time is needed. While family and friends will want to comfort you, ultimately they can only do so much. Sidelined athletes must take time on their own to come to terms with their new circumstances. Only you can know exactly what your loss means to you. It's good to reflect and process your thoughts about what happened to you. It's okay to take your time. Everyone heals differently. You must allow your natural healing process to happen and understand that your path to healing may be different than that of someone else.

4. Get It All Out

It is common for sidelined athletes to feel like they aren't able to make a turn in their lives until they reach their lowest of lows. This is why athletes are instructed to not hide it, but rather ride out their feelings of sadness. You have to 'get it all out'. Put very simply by a sidelined athlete, "You almost have to bottom out before its time to climb out of the hole."

5. Expect Tough Periods

Often times, one's feelings of hurt can worsen or spark back up. This is especially typical when the sidelined athlete's former sports season starts back up. Different triggers will hti you in ways you may not have expected. Remember, feel the hurt. That is the only way through it. 

6. Identity Change

Our personal identity can be built around our sport. "I kind of felt that people didn't associate me the same way, like my status had changed, it was a level of status that I felt I had lost. I had a status that I was not only a student, but an athlete as well, whereas now I just felt that I was a student only. That was a weird transition, ( - Sidelined Athlete.) This athlete hit the nail on the head. The feeling of identity change is one of the hardest parts of becoming sidelined. You've got to remember that it isn't the sport that defined you. It was all the things that made you like your sport, all the qualities about you that made you good at your sport - these are the things that make you 'you' and define who you are. Eventually, you'll find a different way to apply the same characteristics. Continue reading here for deeper insights on identity change.

7. You're Not Superman

Injury is common in sports. Often times people ask, "What happens if you get hurt? Don't you know that's dangerous? Careful, you're gonna get hurt!" Athletes typically respond, "Yeah, no doubt, thanks," while internally scoffing at the remarks. Of course you can get hurt! You can get hurt walking a block, not a big deal! Worst comes to worst, you get hurt and you have to take a little time off to heal. Athletes are supermen/women... Right? Unfortunately, this is not the reality. When one is sidelined it can be very difficult to come to terms with the fact your body does indeed have limits and that nobody, including yourself, is invincible. There's no shame in accepting your human limitations. It's not a reflection on your character or how dedicated you are to your sport. 

8. You Can't Count on The Same Things

Sports were concrete. In the past, you could always count on them. A sidelined athlete said it best when she said, "That's the thing I could always count on. I could always count on being a little better. Now I couldn't count on that." Athletes so often use their sport as their fallback, their therapy, their escape. You will no longer be able to count on that as a sidelined athlete. However, there IS hope . . . 

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we continue to talk about building a healthy adjustment. We will discuss climbing out of the hole of despair, taking positive strides forward, finding a new identity, and learning to find new passions or challenges. For now, remember that you are not alone. Many others have gone through what you're going through and know exactly how you feel. We got through it and so will you. 

Follow along to the next article in this series: Part 3 Finding Your Voice in the Aftermath to learn more about getting the support you need.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Neither Sidelined USA nor its affiliates provide clinical or medical care of any kind via their relationship with Sidelined. At no time should a user have an expectation of clinical care or professional services offered or rendered. 

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Cade Pinalto

Sidelined USA's President and Co-founder, Sidelined USA Board of Directors Member

Cade was sidelined at the age of 12 and became inspired to start Sidelined at age 15. He loves working with Sidelined and is passionate about changing the lives of sidelined athletes. Cade lives his life by the quote made famous by Winston Churchill, "Success is never final and failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."

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Matt Brown, PhD

Sports Psychologist, Edge School for Athletes and Sidelined USA Advisory Board Member

“Twenty-two years ago, I began my own research on the psychological recovery of the injured athlete. When Sidelined contacted me with their mission, I was excited . . . I have no doubt that Sidelined USA will provide meaningful support for a population that would otherwise feel alone and helpless in this experience. I myself suffered an injury that ended my collegiate football career and certainly would have benefited immeasurably from an organization like this one.”