How the canceled spring sports seasons can affect mental health in student athletes

Local News

Along with canceled classes also came the cancellation of spring sports seasons.

Experts say student athletes aren’t just grieving the game, but for many also a sense of identity.

“When kids move into adolescence and young adulthood so much of their identity formation is centered on the things that they enjoy doing and athletics is a part of that,” said Meg Jelen, a Gundersen marriage and family therapist.

Not only are kids lacking the title of baseball athlete or track star this spring, but many are mourning the social connection that sports provide– from tournaments to team bonding and relationships with coaches.

Therapists say whether a senior athlete was using this season to close a chapter or for scouting opportunities, the loss is hard.

“There’s a lack of closure for those that have worked many, many years and may not have the opportunity to compete again in their athletics or hobby,” Jelen said. “Also, anxiety of not knowing what the future involvement in that will be [for those wanting to continue.]”

Gundersen says it’s important to validate athlete’s feelings while also reminding them of why the season ended and how important it is to mitigate COVID-19.

“On the one hand these athletes are feeling disappointment for missing out, at the same time they are making those sacrifices for the greater good,” said Jelen.

It’s not just athletes who are on the court that are missing the action, but also the supporters in the stands.

“For parents, it’s really difficult to see there kid’s suffering and know they have a limited ability to kind of influence how they are feeling,” Jelen said. “Also [they] have their own grief because they worked hard to help get their young athlete to this time and place in their sport and they’re missing out on those milestones and opportunities to acknowledge the hard work too.”

Gundersen says the best thing for parents to do is be present and willing to talk through any emotions arising until athletes are able to take the field again.

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