Relationship Connection: Injury ends my pro sports career; nobody understands my lost dreams, depression

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Question

Due to an injury, I recently retired early from playing a professional sport and now I’m trying to figure out my next move. Basically, I wasn’t prepared for this and thought I would be playing sports until I had a good retirement. I can’t even imagine any job being as great as what I was doing.

My wife, kids, family and friends are trying to cheer me up, telling me that everything is going to work out great. The problem is that I don’t believe them.

I know that what I had was a dream that not many people get to have, and I can’t see any job even comparing. I need help understanding where to go from here and how to help my family understand what this is like for me.

Answer

Your family can’t understand what this is like for you; I’m guessing they’ve never been professional athletes. The goal isn’t to get them to understand exactly what you’ve been through. The goal is for you to navigate the loss of your dream and find a new purpose and meaning in your life.

The road to becoming a professional athlete began long before you were married. It’s usually something that becomes a part of your identity as a young person. It requires tremendous sacrifice, talent, opportunities (some might call it good fortune) and the willingness to give up other options so you can pursue the dream of being a professional athlete. Unfortunately, as you’ve seen, this narrow focus leaves athletes vulnerable when things don’t go as planned.

It’s tragic because the type of focus and commitment needed to achieve a high level of performance also prevents you from seeing other options that could serve as a backup plan if it fails. Now that your Plan A fell through, it’s critical that you move toward accepting the reality that you had a significant blind spot by not considering a backup plan in the chance that you couldn’t continue as an athlete.

You probably have heard of the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages are often associated with the death of a loved one. However, these stages are appropriate for any type of loss, especially one that has been so interwoven into your identity.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss; you will learn to live with it,” Kubler-Ross said, “You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”

Don’t try to figure out how to have the same experience you had when you were a pro athlete. That was a special season of your life, and you can always honor that wonderful and rare experience.

You are not only grieving the loss of playing your sport but also grieving the loss of relationships, identity, financial security and other aspects that are hard to measure.

You probably didn’t realize this at the time, but there was a divide between you and your family when you were a pro athlete. You had a fire and passion for your sport that they couldn’t relate to or share with you. Though not a bad thing, this is something that creates distance between you and them. You now have an opportunity to fully connect with them around the lives they’re living and build a new way of relating to the world and to them.

Try to identify what you loved about the world of professional sports so you can get those same needs met in new ways. For example, if you loved being part of a team, recognize that there are opportunities all around you in your family to build something important with your wife and children. Though it won’t have the same instant exhilarating feedback as a crowd going wild, the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done something important will meet that deeper need.

You spent years investing in a relationship with your sport and everyone associated with it. The same drive, passion and commitment aren’t wasted because you got injured. All of those attributes are portable and can be applied in any endeavor. They are now a part of who you are because you earned them.

I have no doubt you’ll be able to create a new direction that builds on the great foundation you’ve already established.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • anybody home December 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Sounds as if this really was a recent injury and loss of your career. If so, give yourself some time, but don’t spend that time whining or moping or putting off the people who care about you. Cowboy up, pardner. This too will pass. In the meantime, be as productive as possible about using your sports talent and finding a way to stay in that world. Check out what other athletes with early-ending careers have done. Coach a kids’ team. Don’t obsess. If there are no bombs dropping on your head, you’re doing well.

  • .... December 9, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Shut up and get a job. !

    • 42214 December 9, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Agree, get a job and move on. You’d probably be cut next year anyway.

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