Why Dwyane Wade Seeking Therapy Upon Retirement is a Big Deal
NBA great Dwyane Wade announced his retirement from basketball earlier this year, but he recently made another important announcement: He’s seeking therapy in preparation for the distress that often accompanies sport retirement.
Why is this a big deal? To begin with it’s important to understand the value of psychotherapy, especially as it applies to athletes experiencing arguably one of the biggest adjustments in their lives in sport retirement. Secondly, when athletes as famous as Dwyane Wade announce they are seeking mental health support, it encourages other athletes to dismiss negative mental health stigmas and possibly pursue counseling support themselves. If a future NBA Hall of Fame player can admit he may need help, hopefully other athletes can be inspired to do the same.
How counseling helps athletes
So what can be gained by working with a mental health therapist? Some athletes are unsure, or even skeptical when it comes to seeking help, so it’s important to understand truth from fiction. Athletic counselors can help athletes transitioning from sports in the many ways, including:
- Providing a support system. Social support for athletes, also known as the people in your life who care about you, are largely comprised of teammates and coaches. When an athlete retires, the support system often goes away, leaving many athletes to feel alone and in isolation as they work through their sport retirement transition. Counselors can help athletes create new support systems and/or other means of providing comfort during difficult times.
- Broadening the identity. Most elite athletes develop a strong athletic identity (meaning they primarily see their life value as ‘athlete’ and not much more). Counseling provides opportunities for athletes to identify other non-sport interests, values, and goals, allowing the athlete to successfully move on in life.
- Developing life skills, especially stress coping. Helping athletes develop important life skills, including communication, decision-making, and healthy stress-response mechanisms are vitally important and help athletes steer clear of using drugs and alcohol to cope with transition stress.
- Assist with future plans, including career development. For many athletes future planning beyond athletics simply doesn’t exist. Some athletes did not complete their college degree, while others expected to make enough money to never have to work again. Counselors help athletes tie up loose ends, acquire the necessary career skills to move forward, and set new, non-sport goals designed to increase life happiness and productivity.
- Working through any “unfinished business.” Sport goals that were never realized are commonly known as “unfinished business,” and they can cause a lot of stress since they can no longer be achieved. Counselors can help athletes gain closure to their unfinished business, and turn their attention to future goals instead.
It’s important that we capitalize on Dwyane Wade’s recent admission to seek counseling so that other athletes can be empowered to consider counseling themselves. In sports, it is often assumed that “only the strong survive,” and some athletes see talking to a counselor as a sign of weakness, not strength. One way to overcome that perception is to have strong athletes like Wade — a future Hall of Famer — speak out about why he thinks it’s important to seek the help of a mental health professional. Great athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to their training, and it appears some leave no stone unturned during their retirement from sports so that they can ensure the same success after their careers end.