Watch for Warning Signs as Kids Face Sport Retirement
It used to be in the old days that only professional athletes experienced distress upon nearing sport retirement, but these days may young athletes — including high school student athletes — also struggle when it comes to giving up sports. In fact, at my practice I regularly meet with kids who experience anxiety and depression when dealing with a future life without sports, and being forced to develop a new, non-sport identity. This shouldn’t be a surprise when you think about it, as today’s athletes often begin playing at a very young age and many develop an athletic identity where they see themselves as “athlete” (self identity), and others also see their value and worth as “athlete” (social identity). When the games end, both of these identities immediately disappear.
Sport retirement can be abrupt (i.e. an unforeseen injury) or predictable (when a kid no longer has the athletic talent to keep up with his peers). In both cases it is not uncommon for the transition to be unwelcome, and for the athlete to be unprepared. The result of the sport retirement transition for many kids can be overwhelming, prompting some to turn to alcohol, drugs, and various reckless behaviors in an attempt to cope. It is for these reasons that it is important for adults, especially parents of retiring athletes, to watch for important warning signs that a young athlete might struggle during this transition.
- Over-identification with sports. Kids who only see themselves as athletes (and with little talent in anything else) run a very high risk in experiencing problems upon sport retirement.
- Unrealistic sport aspirations. When kids assume they will be receiving a DI athletic scholarship – or even a chance to play professional sports – they may be setting themselves up for future problems when these things do not occur.
- No plans beyond sports. Kids who forgo developing plans beyond sports are also considered high-risk for sport retirement difficulties.
- Unwilling to talk to a counselor. Often kids benefit by talking to a trained professional sport psychologist, but some kids are overly concerned with the stigma sometimes associates with seeking help. Unfortunately, this mindset can actually prolong a difficult sport retirement transition.
Prepare for the inevitable when it comes to sport retirement – the reality is that every athlete will eventually face the day where he or she can no longer compete. Need more help? Check out our toolkit for parents designed to help your child get the most out of sports.