By: Caroline Spearman, Psy.D.
It is difficult to truly understand the gut-wrenching feeling of a sport season ending unless you have lived it yourself. As a past collegiate athlete, I can vividly remember the clock winding down during NCAA tournament games and realizing that our season was winding down with it. The feelings come flooding in- sadness, disappointment, pride, unity, appreciation, grief. It is a whirlwind of emotions that are processed with teammates and coaches over the days and bus rides to come. As difficult as those times were, our team would always look back on our amazing season and the great memories we had both on and off the field.
Not only was March Madness canceled this year, but athletes all over the country also had their seasons end unexpectedly and prematurely without the opportunity to play out what could have been. They did not get the opportunity to move through their schedule, traveling near and far for exciting wins, tough losses, and competitive rivalries. They did not get to experience the fun team dinners, exciting pre-game traditions, and delicious post-game tailgates that come with each match. They were not able to play in their conference tournament and wait with anticipation to see if they were granted a spot in the coveted NCAA tournament. These are all experiences that many of us saw as part of the territory, part of the journey, part of normal everyday life. However, current college athletes have had these experiences snatched from them in the blink of an eye.
It is often difficult to know how much we appreciate something until it is taken from us. Athletes all over the country have had to come to terms with the fact that they will never get to see what the 2020 season had in store for them. While it is normal and expected that college athletes should grieve this loss, there are a few things they can do to help ease the blow and transition to this unexpected hiatus from their sport:
· Reflect on the time that you had with your teammates this year. Remember times on and off the field and try journaling about them, making a collage, or putting together a short video clip.
· Find ways to stay connected with your teammates. Host a virtual team dinner or engage in other team traditions you may be missing.
· Most student-athletes are accustomed to very busy, structured schedules. Maintain a regular schedule as much as possible and incorporate some physical activity. Try something different, like yoga or Tabata, during this break from your sport.
· Identify some positives that have come from this transition (e.g., more time with family, more time to pursue hobbies, more flexible schedule) and pursue an interest you would not ordinarily have time for.
· Focus on strengthening your mindset through meditation, breathwork, and visualizations. Try using apps like Headspace or Insight Timer for guided recordings.
· Reach out to a professional to engage in teletherapy if you experience overwhelming feelings of loss, hopelessness, sadness, isolation, and/or loss of identity. Working with a therapist can help prepare you to enter next season as mentally strong as ever.