(Editor’s note: Report by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com)
Change is never easy. As people involved in sports, we hardly ever consider a situation where sports will be taken away. Unfortunately, we are living that situation right now. As coronavirus concerns have an immediate impact on our daily lives and our decisions, athletes stand by -- some waiting anxiously for the opportunity to come back, some reflecting on a lost season or a career abruptly ended. I’ve recently had athletes reach out about their struggles with their personal situations, and I wanted to write something to all athletes to reassure them that we will all be OK.
The End of the Line
We saw our state basketball and collegiate-level tournaments cut short before championships were played, high school spring sports in Montana seem to be in jeopardy, and some spring seasons have already been canceled. For some of you, that means the end of your career in your sport. First thing I want to say is that I’m sorry it ended this way for you. You may be having a difficult time accepting this result, but you definitely are not alone. Sport often becomes a coping mechanism for people, and when that gets taken away we often grieve the loss of what could’ve been. For some people that follows the five stages of grief model, for some it doesn’t. One thing I can guarantee is that you will have low moments along the way, but the difference between people who respond well and people that don’t are simply their choices.
You can either choose to dwell on these uncontrollable circumstances or you can choose to celebrate what sport has given you over the years. Even though sport can become a huge part of your life, you are still the same person without it. Athletes bring their identities into their sport and use it as an “enhancer” of character, they don’t lose who they are when they’re done playing.
Choose to soak up all of those positive aspects of your sport that you’ve experienced and focus on the things that you can control in the here and now. Some of you may benefit from writing down your greatest memories and sharing them with your teammates.
Still Some Work to be Done
For those of you who are blessed with another year, another opportunity to participate in your sport, don’t take it for granted. You’ll likely experience just as wide of a range of emotions, even though you will probably have another chance to play. There is no answer for these problems and no way to make your emotions 100 percent positive all the time, but they will probably regulate over time.
The issue still lies in what we can control and what we cannot. You cannot control the position you are in: required to stay at home, can’t practice, can’t go to the gym, or whatever the situation is for you. What you can control is your response, how much effort you put into what you decide to do, and what your attitude will be. Discover some ways that you can better yourself during this time.
Do you need to be more clear about what your goals are? Can you develop skills to slow yourself down in the usually fast-paced world of sports that we live in? In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about some things that you can be doing with your time. Many of these things require you to take action, but they will make you better and more satisfied when you come back.
Although everyone is practicing social distancing right now, there are still plenty of ways that you can connect with people. If you need support, call someone. If you are in need of some social interaction, FaceTime someone you’d usually talk to. Coaches can also use these resources to keep their athletes thinking about their sport and planning for the future.
We are all adjusting to a “new normal.” There is no way to know exactly what will happen in the future, but one thing is for certain: The sports community will adapt and overcome. That’s what sports are all about, right? We all build mental toughness and resiliency through sports, but we should still be able to display those traits when sports are taken away. Stay calm, everybody. All that’s needed is a new task to complete and a new way to spend our mental energy, because we all want to be chomping at the bit when the gates finally open.
About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).