My sport is running. It has taught me to work hard and never give up no matter how much pain I’m in. I never realized how much it meant to me, however, until the ability to run was temporarily taken away from me this year when I became sick with mono.
Doctor’s orders were no physical activity for a month, which meant no practice with my track team. During that month I had no idea what to do with my time. From about 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoon when I would normally be practicing I just sat in my room doing homework or sleeping. Even walking to the Dow was even too exhausting.
Adding to this frustration, I still couldn’t practice even as my health began to improve. The doctor wanted to ensure I was better before I started working out. I was energetic again but I couldn’t run. I felt lazy and deprived of one of the highlights of my day.
Around the same time, the women and men’s swim team had just ended their season and I heard many of the swimmers comment about having no idea what to do with their free time without practices.
“I definitely feel sad after season ends” said Lindy Williams, Sylvania, Ohio junior and swim team member. “I spend six months with these people that become my family. We work together, hurt together and get through it together. When season ends I lose the close contact I have to these people that motivate me.”
This got me thinking, what other athletes suffer from this “post-sports depression?” Did this sadness stem simply from missing teammates, or did it have a more scientific origin, such as the lack of endorphins produced during a workout?
I sought experts at counseling services to answer my questions.
According to Ashley Rosaen, intern at counseling services, once a person becomes a dedicated athlete, his or her sport becomes part of that person’s character, thus developing that person’s “athletic identity.”
Rosaen also stated that whether it’s the end of their collegiate or professional career or retirement due to injury, athletes can develop depression because their athletic identity is taken away from them.
“This could be from the lack of constant endorphin production,” said Rosaen. “The more involved your athletic identity is in your life, the greater likelihood of mental problems once that is taken away.”
Rosaen and fellow graduate intern Bethany Sabourin went on to explain that other identities are more internal, for example, academics. The pride in doing well on a test comes from a sense of accomplishment after studying. Athletic identity, however, depends largely on others.
“The group membership of sports adds to the athletic identity” Sabourin said. The athlete is working hard on their own, but they are also constantly reassured by teammates, coaches, or crowds at games or competitions.
Rosaen , a 2006 Albion graduate and former soccer player, recalled her own experience ending her collegiate soccer career.
“You have to branch out and see what else you really like,” Rosaen said. “For example I put my focus into counseling.”
Rosaen and Sabourin recommend that athletes ending a season take time off for rest, but then slowly begin working out again to get back to their routine. For those injured, they recommended doing whatever possible to stay active. In both cases, support from family and friends helps.
After speaking with counseling services I realized that I too sought out a “new identity” when I couldn’t practice for a month. I put more energy into my schoolwork to gain a different sense of accomplishment that was missing from practice, and I was able to spend more time with friends.
I was eventually able to start running again; however, this process taught me to be more thankful for my abilities. It also taught me possible ways to cope with being restricted from practice from factors beyond my control.