By KAMLA MODI
Director of Learning and Evaluation at JED
Training and playing sports can feel like a livelihood, and when it’s cut short suddenly, it can feel like a breakup. Maybe you were headed to regionals. Maybe you had one last team meet to determine how you would rank in your conference. Maybe you were looking to break a school record. Or perhaps your entire spring season was cut short. Whatever your circumstance, ending sports too soon can be devastating.
The threat of COVID-19 has impacted schools, workplaces, public places, community events, daily routines, and livelihoods as we know it. One change that we may not have been ready for when schools needed to close was the canceling of school sports. Whether you are a collegiate athlete, compete for your high school, play for a club or private team, or just play for the love of sports, this abrupt canceling is something you probably were not prepared for.
This is our message to athletes–the ones who had to cut their season short, the ones who had to retire from their sport earlier than expected, the ones who get so much joy from playing and competing and now don’t have a safe place to go to. We understand.
Mourn the loss of your competitive season. Your time was cut short, and it’s not fair. You are allowed to feel sad about this, and you should give yourself time to mourn this loss. If you continue to feel sadness, and don’t have anyone to share these feelings with, you may want to consider reaching out to counseling or a crisis line. To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Text “START” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
You’ll always have your friends. Your teammates, that is. The ones who have spent all those hours in the gym, on the field, on the court. They get you, better than many other peers. Your coach too. Reach out to them during this difficult time. See if you can come up with a routine or work out plan for the next few months. Be creative and work out together virtually. Join the various virtual challenges out there for your sport. Continue meeting with them for study groups and other virtual social events, if you can.
Give yourself some time to transition. With the extra time on your hands, it can be confusing and weird not to have daily practice and to have a different schedule now. Any transition is hard, and takes time. Give yourself the time you need to transition from life as a competitive student athlete to life after the season ends. Here are some tips on managing life transitions. If you are a graduating senior, this time of transition is inevitable, even though it came sooner than expected. Saying goodbye to your team, your sport, your coach, and this livelihood as a whole can be very challenging. This is the time to think about next steps.
Think about whether your future still includes this sport in some way. Maybe you can continue on as a coach in the future. Maybe you can continue your sport on a club team, a recreational team, or in some other capacity in the future. When my college gymnastics career ended, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the sport. It surprised me that all my teammates were saying goodbye and asking me if I was going to miss gymnastics, and what I would do next. I thought, ‘I’m not done with this sport,’ and so I continued. I went back to my local gym with my childhood coach when I moved back home for grad school. I continued to train and compete for years after college. Those were some of my best and most memorable days in gymnastics. I also continued on as a coach. It was necessary for me to teach my knowledge to others and to give back in some way to a sport that I loved so much.
Cherish the positive memories and life lessons. Most athletes would agree that lessons learned from sports go beyond the physical skills. Many employers look for and hire competitive athletes because they know that these individuals are focused, organized, committed, and work extremely hard. They also tend to be good team players, and are “coachable”. A recent Gallup survey showed that former collegiate athletes scored higher than non-collegiate athletes in four out of five indicators of well-being– purpose, social, community, and physical-well being. Now is a good time to reflect upon the lessons you’ve learned through sports, like how you persisted through hard work, how you came back after an unexpected injury, or how you worked twice as hard after being sidelined by a coach. Through the wins and the losses, there was probably a lesson to be learned through it all. Make a list of the skills (not sport skills, but “life skills”) that you’ve learned through your time in sports. For each skill, list the experience that brought you there and then list what you will do with these skills in your path moving forward. If you are so compelled, write a story about a life changing experience in sports. It may help you put this experience in perspective and better value your time in sports.
Think about next season! There is always more you can do to stay in top shape and prepare for next season, if you have one to prepare for. Ending this season abruptly might have you fired up for the next season. What mistakes were made that need to be corrected? What skills need to be refined and what areas need to get stronger? Even if you’re stuck at home for a while, there are lots of at-home workouts and routines that you can do. Maybe your coach can give you an assignment to do at home over the next few months. Maybe there is a local gym or park that is safe to visit so that you can continue your training.
Know that any athlete that has had their season cut short gets it. So do the coaches, the athletic administration, fans, and your families that loved watching you play or compete. Sports bring people together, and they will bring people together again, soon. Know that you’re a part of a larger family of student-athletes and former student-athletes, and no virus can take that title away from you.
Kamla Modi, Director of Program Evaluation, joined JED in March 2019 with 15 years of experience in non-profit, academic, community-based, and clinical settings focused on promoting the well-being of diverse groups of youth. Kamla holds a PhD in applied developmental psychology from Fordham University and a BA from Rutgers University.