Every ballplayer’s career will end. For some it is after illustrious professional career. For others it is after an unexpected injury. For those who have been through this process it is like dying a thousand deaths. The athlete is forced to redefine who the person is. Most athletes derive their self-worth from sports because it has brought them an abundance of attention from a young age. They grow accustom to hearing their parents and relatives brag about their accomplishments. Their friends look up to them as sports stars. They get their names in the papers and various sports websites and journals. Then one day the attention stops and the now ex-athlete enters shock.
The seven stages of grief are: Shock and Disbelief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance and Hope. In the first stage the athlete doesn’t really comprehend what is happening. The athlete will ask “is really happening?” Typically this is when denial begins and the athlete goes through the day just pretending that they are still an active ballplayer. As reality sets in the athlete become angry. The anger isn’t directed at anything so it comes out affecting everything including personal relationships. Often times this is when the ex-athlete turns to drugs and alcohol to mask the pain.
At some point the ex-athlete feels guilt. Guilt for not stretching enough, guilt for not training harder, guilt for training to hard. At this stage the athlete blames him or herself for not doing more or for doing too much. Depression sets in and often the ex-athlete reverts to stage one or just bounces around in stages one through six. Often times negative publicity, financial, and relationship problems exacerbate the pain.
Every star athlete knows that the better you get the more people there are that want to see you fail. That is just part of being a star athlete. This can be a heavy burden for some to handle. One of the reasons many athletes love playing is because of the positive attention they receive from playing. When their playing career ends the attention stops…at least the positive attention stops and all that is left is an onslaught of negative attention. If this were to happen to non-athletes it would be called bullying and garner national attention. But ex-athletes don’t have the luxury of running to the law for help; ex-athletes are considered to have thrust themselves in the limelight and must accept the good with the bad even if it seems like all bad.
Some ex-athletes never make it out of stages one through six. But many athletes do and accept that their playing days are over and find ways to use their skills learned through sports. In this stage the ex-athlete discovers all the intrinsic talents that were gained from playing competitive sports. These talents might not come in the form of a degree but an ex-ballplayer knows more about teamwork than any newly minted MBA.
Having personally been through stages one through seven we understand the painful process. We have also helped many navigate through this transition. We have a passion for helping any athlete, regardless of ability to pay, to discover the gifts they acquired through sports and accept that sports has made them who they are. The same attitude that makes a sports star can be transferred into other aspect of life. Learning to transfer that attitude can be tough but can easily be accomplished with a little guidance.
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