Life Without Sports

Basketball is Psychology XLVII

(Photo via @oregonwbb twitter)


“Be strong.”

“Take it like a man.”

“Don’t be a wimp.”

“Don’t cry.”

These words are often told to those who are going through a hard time, especially athletes.

There’s an unwritten rule that athletes are not supposed to cry or show emotion. Our culture of sports equates a face of stone to strength and vulnerability to weakness. As if athletes are not human and shouldn’t be affected by hardships.

Being strong does not mean you are not allowed to have feelings, and strength does not mean you suppress your feelings.

When we hide our pain, it doesn’t go away, it festers, which is why vulnerability is the ultimate strength.

Athletes are taught from a young age that being strong means hiding your emotions and that showing your emotions is a sign of weakness. That could not be further from the truth. Grieving is brave. One of the strongest things you can do is to feel the weight of your emotions. It’s okay to be heartbroken, sad, and upset. Grieving is brave because it means rather than hiding your emotions, you’re holding them.

If we don’t grieve, we can’t heal. Grief has to be fully experienced because on the other side is healing. Strong people cry.

A few weeks ago, for the first time, the sports world stopped. Many athletes were forced to abruptly end their seasons, and for some, their careers ended as well.

In her book ”On Grief and Grieving” Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:

  1. Denial: Denial and shock help us cope and make survival possible. It’s our way of letting in only as much as we can handle. Letting in the feelings associated with loss at once would be emotionally overwhelming. We can’t believe what has happened because we actually can’t believe what has happened.

  2. Anger: Feeling frustrated and upset

  3. Bargaining: Thinking “What if…” / ”If only...”

  4. Depression: It is an appropriate response to a great loss. It is intense sadness. It makes us wonder, why go on at all? Life feels pointless, even your daily activities seem empty and it’s hard to care about anything. Our society does not know how to handle this depression. Depression after a loss is seen as unnatural and most people see it as a state that needs to be fixed. But depression is a normal, appropriate response. It would be unusual to not feel an intense sadness after something you care about is gone. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary stops along the way, The only way around it is through it. Sometimes intervention is vital, but most of the time, we do not allow the normal depression that comes with grief to have its place. This cheering-up reaction is often an expression of that person’s own needs and that person’s own inability to tolerate a long face for extended time.

  5. Acceptance: often confused with the notion of being all right or okay with what happened, that’s not the case. This stage is about accepting the reality that something is gone and recognizing this new reality is permanent.

The world of athletics views tears as a weakness and a face of stone as strength.

Because you’ve been taught suppressing emotions is strength and showing emotion is weakness, as an athlete it can be tempting to think these do not apply to you, but recognize that it is okay to not be okay. In fact, not being okay can be part of the healing process.

The saving grace of loss is that the hardships are an opportunity for growth. You won’t be able to see or understand this kind of growth until you look back years from now in the future. This time will help you grow as a person, which will help you throughout your basketball career and beyond.

This may feel like punishment, but choose to view it as training. These hard times are shaping you into a tougher person who is even more capable of weathering life’s toughest storms.

Why do you do what you do?

One of the biggest problems we see throughout this time without sports, is a lack of motivation. If your only sources of motivation are winning and accomplishment, you’re probably having an especially hard time adjusting to life without sports.

We all have different motivations for everything we do.

Whether it’s what motivates you to wake up early to go to the gym and get some extra shots up, what motivates you to give more effort on game days, or what motivated you to read this article; we all have underlying reasons behind every action we take.

Typically, our motivation comes from two sources:

  • Ego (looking good, doing things for social media, obsessing over our image...)

  • Materialism (getting stuff: money, accolades, scholarships, contracts, championships...)

As an athlete, this is quite possibly the longest break you will have without workouts, practices, and games. It has never been more important to know how to motivate yourself.

What we all need is motivation that will last.

We need motivation that will energize us even if the sports world stops.

We don’t think what’s motivating us is important, and we don’t give it a lot of thought, until all of a sudden that motivation is gone and hopelessness settles in.

If your motivation was looking good or getting a trophy, this might be especially hard for you. No games are being televised, and no National Championship trophies are being given out.

The problem with being motivated by looking good and winning championships is, it does not always deliver. What happens when you lose the game and end up looking bad? What happens if you never win a championship? Or worse, what happens when you win the championship trophy and the MVP and it leaves you feeling empty? How many trophies and accolades does it take to be satisfied? It never satisfies.