Athletes are human beings not robots
Atheltes are human beings just like the rest of us, however they may excel in their sporting domain. Athletes love to be challenged and like competing and winning and they are typically good at controlling their focus. However, events and problems outside their sport can sometimes creep into impacting on their sports performance. This could be family arguments, relationship issues or mental health concerns. Athletes have reported having panic attacks when competing, feelings depressed or even having suicidal thoughts.
One area of sport psychology helps athletes to deal with the end of sporting career due to injury or retirement. This can result in a loss of identity leave the athlete wondering who they’re now without the sport. This is why my philosophy of practice takes a humanistic approach to helping athletes, because I understand that even professional athletes are still human and sometimes require psychological support.
Imagine spending your entire life playing your sport, training and working towards becoming a professional athlete. Your days are filled doing the sport you love and it doesn’t feel like work in your mind, in fact its a pleasurable way to spend your days. Then, one day you wake up and you cant play your sport anymore due to a career ending injury or you have to retire through age. This can leave athletes wondering who they are now and what their identity is. They can lose a sense of who they are as a person. If you ask a tennis player who they are, they will reply with something like ‘I am a tennis pro’, however after retirement they can struggle to answer this question.
An Athelte’s career can be quite short compared to a normal 9-5 job and athletes need to prepare psychologically for this transition. They have to be able to create a new positive self-identity and be able to see how their experiences have a beneficial impact on other people’s lives. Systems should be put inlace to help athletes with the psychological side of coming to terms with a sporting career ending. Psychological support should also be put in place to help younger athletes who’s dreams are not realised and who have no plan after their sporting life.
For some athletes who have reached a high level in their sport, the thought of playing for fun doesn’t appeal to them. Athletes want to be the best and generally hate losing, therefore the thought of playing below par isn’t very appealing. As a human being, we have certain needs to be met in order to feel we have reach our full potential, and (Masow) devised his hierarchy of needs to explore this.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
- Self-actualisation (desire to become the best one can be)
- Esteem (respect, self-esteem, status, recognition & freedom)
- Love and belonging (friendship, intimacy, family & sense of connection)
- Safety needs (personal security, employment & resources)
- Physiological needs (air, water, shelter, sleep, clothing & reproduction)
A loss of identity
After a sporting career, it may help for you to try and use the positive experiences that sport has given you to help you progress into the next transition of your life. Athletes are very highly driven, focused and disciplined, all of which can be a great strength in most areas of life. Athletes like to perform and work well in teams to get results, they are competitive, which can be great in business. Some former professional athletes enter coaching to pass on their experience and knowledge to the next generation, and this helps them to feel valued and appreciated as a person. Overall, take the positives from your sporting career, even if you didn’t achieve the dream and think of how you can add value to other people’s lives in the future. Sport has so much to offer, even if you don’t reach the top, for example social relationships, new friends and travelling the world.
For psychological support contact Stephen Renwick, Sport Psychologist, Greater Manchester and Stockport – T: 07868-990-674