Anxiety, sports, and future.

Our culture and world has seen some major shifts in the way life functions. Most every aspect of life has changed to some degree. Athletics is no different, at all levels it has seen major disturbances. I have heard from athletes, parents, and coaches wondering, what is next? The landscapes of professional, amateur, and junior sports is still unfolding. High school athletes are in ambiguous waters with some never to compete on a team or in a competitive season again. Many college athletes face major decisions; return to school, join another team, or start a career in the “real world”.

As I work with clients, talk to current and former coaching colleagues, and support athletes, I wonder what life will be like for them? What will athletics be like? What does an athletes future look like? There are so many questions. Over the last few months I have wondered what the best words are to give to support others. How do I help others mourn the loss of hard work, time, and money invested that will never be actualized in “competition” or “something more”.

Without grounded truth, speculation runs rampant. Future focused questions can prove to elicit hope for some but also drives fear and doubt for others. Athletics at all levels has seen increased competitive training, travel, and expense over the last few decades. Chances of scratching at a state championship, collegiate scholarship, or professional career may be more difficult than ever despite the growing opportunities nationally and internationally. These times can force parents and athletes wonder, is all this work, financial investment, and opportunity gone? Have we just lost out on our future? There is much more here than just loosing the opportunity to compete.

Despite all of the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and doubt, athletics continues to be a vehicle for physical, emotional, and psychological development. Athletics does not inherently teach resiliency, grit, or fortitude but it is the soil for growth. I have seen the context of sports and competition destroy as many athletes as it has developed. Sports will not inherently make anyone successful or be the hope that ultimately changes lives but it can be used for positive purposes. Parents, coaches, and athletes need to view athletics and competition as a training ground for developing and maturing people. This pandemic is the same, it can destroy lives, cut seasons short, and end careers. Despite this we can’t loose hope.

No one enjoys loosing. It can and should be hard to digest. Loosing can happen due to many reasons, unforeseen circumstances, facing better opponents, or by an unfair call. Many athletes have lost their seasons due to this pandemic. They have been dealt a loosing hand. I personally know high school seniors who had potential for great seasons and ability to set records that will never get their shot. I also know college athletes who have been caught between a high level job offer and a chance to redeem their last competitive season of their athletic life. I have seen professional athletes loose the potential to prove their worth for their next job opportunity.

The disappearing of an athletic season or one last completion is a story of loss. But the story of loss is rarely the end. The fires of destruction give way to a landscape fertile for planting. The lessons we learn from loss are more valuable than those of victory. In some recent work with clients I have been recommending a few things.

For those who are senior athletes and will not be going on and playing sports in college; recognize what you have learned during your athletic career. What are the disciplines you have learned? What are the mental skills you have developed? These are major building blocks for successful careers and work ethics. For these individuals I also ask, how much does this loss hurt? How can you use this pain to motivate you to succeed in other realms of your life? Life is just beginning, learn from life and develop the muscles to be resilient in chaos. Write out this statement and fill in the blanks: “I lost out in (blank) and I will redeem that by succeeding in (blank).

For those individuals who are still in high school or going on to compete in college the questions and lessons look something like this. What are the things you need to continue to develop to better yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally? Notice how fast things could be taken away from you, prepare and cherish the moments you have. Recognize that your hard work may not pay off how you desired but it does pay off. While you may not be able to train physically, train mentally. Most athletes today lack mental and strategic development. They can run fast, jump high, hit a ball, or make a basket but they lack creativity or strategy. For these athletes with something next I suggest this. Create a motivational statement for the next season of your life, “I have lost out in (blank), my next season I will make up for that by doing (blank).

For all those who have lost a season, forced to move, or ended their career, know that you have worked hard. Know that you have learned much. The “what if” can lead you to a better “what is”. Mourn the loss of the last and look forward to the possibilities of the future. Use the loss as fuel to fight and compete in a different way and cherish the road you have traveled.