I believe the time is now that we make concerted efforts to better educate and prepare families for their child’s eventual sport retirement. With sports being as big as they are in this country, its a shame that so many athletes are still left to themselves to figure out who they are, what their talents are beyond sports, and what future paths exist for them when in the midst of the sport retirement transition. Fortunately, most athletes do not fall into the worst-case scenarios of suicide (as with the recent passing of Junior Seau), but literally millions of athletes from various sports, backgrounds, and types, experience great distress during sport retirement – often resulting in depression, anxiety, role confusion, and poor future planning. In order to cope with this distress, many athletes turn to drug and alcohol abuse, aggression, and reckless behaviors (like gambling).
The message I am sending today is designed to promote more action in the ways of better educating sports families about the athletic identity, and how kids often develop an exclusive athletic identity that hinders them when they end their careers in sports. With so many kids now specializing in one sport and playing it nearly year-round, it becomes easy to see how athletes develop their self-worth around “athlete.” Their social identities (or how others view them), are also constructed around the athletic identity, too (like when we immediately ask about the game before anything else). None of this is “bad” necessarily, but it all leads to the fact that most kids never play beyond high school (only about 5% do), making the sport retirement transition usually an abrupt and unplanned one. Without better educational efforts, families will continue to struggle when their kids (who are often just teenagers without great coping skills due to their youth) experience distress during this period — making it that much more important that we make things better.
Help is Here!
One approach that we have developed is Sport Success 360, a licensed educational system designed to help schools and youth sport leagues by providing key psychosocial information, tips, and strategies designed to help kids have a safe, fun, and meaningful athletic experience. I encourage you to learn more about Sport Success 360 by watching this introductory video — Sport Success 360 includes a broad range of topics (including sport retirement), complimentary videos, and free downloads of Sport Success 360 and Sport Success 360 PLUS audio program.
If you are reading this blog, then it can be assumed you have an interest in youth and interscholastic sports (probably as either a parent, athlete, or coach). While you may not be a decision-maker in your school or youth league, you can help raise awareness by mentioning Sport Success 360, or other great sport education programs out there that can help kids not only better prepare for sport retirement, but also learn about key psychosocial issues like the dangers of performance enhancing supplements, youth sport burnout, hazing, and many more issues. In all likelihood you have also experienced more traditional issues, like playing time, cuts, sportsmanship, tough coaches (or parents), and travel leagues – Sport Success 360 covers those topics, too.
Education Helps On and Off the Field
Mental toughness is needed on the field, but it’s not limited to just wins and losses — we need to help families learn the culture of sports today, and successful strategies to help kids cope with the pressures they commonly experience in sports. Just as important as the X’s and O’s are, we need to help kids with performance anxiety, as well as the resiliency needed to bounce back from adversity. Ironically, these are really life skills and not limited to sports, making these kinds of sport education efforts that much more vital.
Better and more prevalent education does not imply that sports are bad, or that all kids who play sports have terrible experiences — far from it. Instead, we need to realize that the days of a handful of casual summer games played on the local sandlot are long gone — replaced by high-level, intense, pressure-filled travel league sports schedules for kids who sometimes struggle to keep up. Of course, these are not bad kids, either – they are just that, kids, vulnerable to kid mistakes when trying to deal with pressure.
Helping Kids – Even the Ones that Don’t Speak Up
Kids don’t always speak up when they feel pressure – be it from their parents or team expectations. In some cases kids have a talent for a specific sport, but don’t love playing the sport — yet still refrain from speaking out because the see the time, money, and energy being invested in their athletic career. Some kids have a lot of trouble multi-tasking other activities – like school and social activities — while others have difficulty dealing with resiliency that sometimes manifests into unsportsmanlike behavior and/or uncontrolled aggression.
When we view youth sports through the lens of it being an often intense, complex, and radically different experience than generations of the past, it helps us better frame the educational approach to youth sports as being one of “keeping up with the times” than one that needs to be done because of “problems.” Introducing new and more advanced ways of delivering contemporary sport education is not an admission that an athletic department or youth league has gone out of control, but instead an example of sports leaders making important budgetary decisions that go beyond the traditional basics. Of course, finding new revenue streams is never easy, but when issues become important enough people become resourceful – this is often referred to as a “tipping point.” Are we there yet? I think so, and from my experiences with many sports people, it sounds like there is increasingly more support to improve future efforts. I personally believe this will happen, and I hope you do, too.
Sport Success 360 is the premier sport education system, designed to improve the culture of your youth or interscholastic team/league!