Many young children grow up dreaming of playing professional sports, of emulating their heroes – the Messis, Serenas and LeBrons. For most, the dream simply remains that, as we slowly ease into normal society and watch our heroes from afar. Some of us, however, carry a few more “what if’s” into adulthood.
I really did have the chance to become a professional football athlete. Unfortunately, several major injuries and an inability to deal with physical issues before they became a significant problem derailed any possibility I had of making that dream a reality. To be so close to fulfilling a lifelong ambition only for major surgery to crush any hope of becoming the kind of hero others could admire was absolutely devastating. I went through a range of feelings – sadness, self-doubt and an inability to accept the defeat of my dream. Here are a few of those feelings and some tips on how to deal with them.
Heal the injury first
Big injuries have a tendency to stick around if not treated properly. They usually occur in joints that you are going to need to function for the rest of your life, so even if you are not going to play sport at the highest level, or any level, having the proper physiotherapy is crucial to your future long-term health and wellness.
Deal with the mental pain
It takes a great level of maturity, awareness and a good dose of humble pie to realize that you are not going to play sport at the highest level. Accepting that you physically do not have what it takes to have a career from your sport is a tough pill to swallow. It really does go against all those messages we are given throughout our lives about never quitting, and winning against all odds.
One of the most important steps in overcoming the negative feelings is talking them over with someone else. You don’t necessarily have to get professional help; even talking to friends or your partner is a good way to work out your emotions. When you put your heart and soul into a sport but you don’t achieve your goals, you can feel extremely lonely and isolated.
Focus your energy somewhere else
Many athletes who have had limited success or were unable to climb to the sporting summit have re-directed their efforts and energy into productive activities that keep them in the sport. Some of the best coaches in sports are those who had a taste of the professional arena but were by no means stars. Player development, coaching and sports agent are all potential careers that many pursue after their years in competition or professional sports come to an end.
Always have a backup plan
I am very lucky that the sport system I was in understood that not everyone under their tutelage would actually make it to the highest level. Therefore, it was a requirement that everyone was in a course of study while playing football. I was fortunate enough to enroll in a sports psychology/physical education degree, which I still use. As disheartening as it is not to reach your dream, there are still many paths available. You can choose to stay in the sport, or remove yourself totally and learn new skills. As a parent, it is important to make sure your child who is aspiring for greatness has a fall-back plan.
Mitch is a former semi-professional athlete, personal trainer and physical education teacher who has decided to explore the world and work with his partner in their adventure travel business. When not flying off to exotic destinations, Mitch can be found on the beaches of Dubai waiting for that next wave.