Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition: Part 5: The Rebuilding Phase
by Jordyn Toia, M.Ed. Sports Psychology
Sometimes difficult transitions can make treating yourself kindly even more challenging. Evaluating emotional responses and internal dialogues while proceeding to implement change can be a tiresome task, as discussed in our previous articles here and here. Despite its potential difficulty, the exercise of evaluating internal dialogues can impact powerful change. Once you have learned to “mind your mind” and create more healthy internal dialogues, you are ready to start rebuilding what was lost.
Competing in sport can provide one with enjoyable experiences, important life lessons, a sense of community, and oftentimes, a sense of self. Many athletes don’t take the time to consider just how much their sport provides them while they compete.This is what makes the transition following a career-ending injury or health condition so unimaginably difficult: it feels like you are losing so much more than a just the sport. Navigating this terrain may be disheartening and at times overwhelming. Which is why, maybe more so than ever, it is absolutely imperative that you be kind to yourself.
Self-Care: Sense of Competence
Competing in a sport can provide athletes with a strong sense of productivity, achievement, and competence. Winning a game, making a team, getting back up after being knocked down, hitting a new PR… succeeding feels good and perseverance is empowering. Unfortunately, it is hard to truly measure the feelings of competence being an athlete provides until the ability to compete is no longer a reality. However, there are always other avenues, passions, and hobbies to explore. While you may have been deprived of the mental preparation that other athletes experience through an anticipated transition out of sport such as graduation or retirement, it may be helpful to remember that this is a reality that virtually every athlete will face at one point or another.
Whether you actively participated in other structured activities or just have some relative interests outside of the physical competition of your sport, you can begin by exploring new things or pursuing other hobbies and interests more avidly. Taking the time to explore other aspects of your identity, interests, and personality can rebuild feelings of competence and achievement while shedding light on what new avenues may be worth pursuing. Again, writing these things down may be helpful in kick-starting this process. For instance,
I am more than a Field hockey player
I am a…
Aside from playing Field hockey, I enjoy or think I might enjoy:
Hanging out with friends
Do not feel discouraged if generating this list is challenging. Whether your list is long or short, you still have the opportunity to explore new things! Even if playing field hockey was your one structured activity or hobby, we can use that to generate new possibilities. Try brainstorming what it was exactly that you loved about playing your sport. For instance,
Being part of a team
The strategy of the sport
Setting and reaching goals
Being a leader
The feelings and aspects that you enjoyed about competing in your sport can often be achieved through different avenues. For example, depending on the injury or health condition, maybe you could achieve the same adrenaline and sense of competition through participation in a different sport, even at a recreational level. At first you may not be interested in any other sport other than the one you’ve been sidelined from. However, there is value in keeping an open mind and exploring every possible option to continue to feed your love of physical competition. If that is not an option, maybe you can achieve the same sense of leadership and strategic thinking through a coaching position. If being a part of a team was something fulfilling for you, maybe you could explore clubs pertaining to an interest of yours. Spend some time brainstorming anything and everything! Racking brains with a friend or family member can be helpful too. Hopefully a simple exercise like this can remind you of who you are at your core and help you consider new potential passions and hobbies.
Redefining satisfaction, cultivating new passions, and taking the initiative to seek out alternative avenues may be difficult in the early stages. You may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of change already inflicted upon you and instigating further change may exacerbate feelings of loss or confusion. If this happens to you, know that it is normal. Give yourself time to heal and try to face this challenge with the same mentality you would on the court, field, or track.
Self-care may be deceiving in that it is not always effortless. Grant yourself permission to truly appreciate every role you play in life. Provide yourself with the space to consider and pursue new things without dismissing ideas prematurely. Try new things and if you don’t end up liking them, that’s perfectly fine! But you owe it to yourself to keep exploring new options until you find the right fit for you.
Remember, the qualities that made you a successful athlete will aid you in every challenge you take on from this point forward. You don’t have to have it all figured out right away, but the pursuit of the “next thing” can be just the catalyst you need to get out of the slump and build towards new passions you may not otherwise have considered. You have every tool you need to continue your journey and we can’t wait to hear what comes next for you!
Note: This article is part of a series titled, “Healthy Adjustment to Career-Ending Injury or Health Condition”. To read through from the beginning, start here.
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.
Jordyn Toia is a member of the Sidelined USA Advisory Board. Jordyn oversees our connection groups and contributes content for our resources.
“I jumped at the opportunity to help an organization that works to provide care and resources to such an underserved population of former athletes. In society, we tend to value athletes for not much more than their athletic prowess and physical productivity. Athletes are whole human beings and should be treated as such. I think a great way to begin to make this shift is to create dialogue, provide resources, and validate those who have been forced to reinvent their lives and identities without competing as athletes in their sports.”