The Identity Of An Athlete, What’s Next?

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on December 10, 2016

As a mental health professional in private practice I work with people of varied life experiences, each of whom are on their own unique journey. Couples/marriage counseling, individual counseling (youth, adults), and family counseling; topics ranging from relationship issues (e.g., parent-child relationship, husband-wife relationship, dating) – to – personal mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression, self worth) – to – professional health and wellness (e.g., goal accomplishment, career discovery/transition) – to – family and extended family relationship dynamic issues. There are various presenting challenges clientele come to my office to receive help for, today’s blog article will focus on the identified athlete. Specifically, through the years some of my clientele have included young children who define themselves as athletes based upon their sport of interest, to the High School level, college athletes, and professional athletes of whom have discovered their profession and their passion as one in the same. Let us take a moment to think about the following: what happens emotionally to a person when he defines himself as an athlete (whether it is football, basketball, baseball . . .) is no longer an athlete? If your identity is as an athlete, and you are no longer an athlete, what’s next?

Athlete As Identity

I have seen through the years in my work with young children who define themselves as an athlete, when they are injured and thus out for the season the emotional affect on how they feel about themselves leading to symptoms of depression and thoughts of low self worth. I have worked with High School students who have experienced what they deem as devastating when they were an athlete throughout High School and were unable to make it into college athletics whether due to their skill set or injury. The loss of sense of self and confusion of identity ensues unless they were someone of whom always had a co-skill, a co-interest. What about the athlete who plays in college and wants to go pro? Does he go pro? If not, and thus no longer is able to identify himself as an athlete, how does that affect his sense of self, and what is his next step for a career? The professional athlete who thus has made it as a career athlete – for how long, and then what’s next? The key for each of these athletes, young or adult, is to be aware of a co-interest.

Co-Interest

As a Psychotherapist I do not use the common expression: “you need something to fall back on”, for that infers the “other item” is less than. I rather use the term: “co-interest”. Something of interest that perhaps that person did not focus his attention on, since it was not their most focused exciting passion, though it is certainly something that can be a skill and an interest that if further developed the person could be quite passionate about. That very skill could become one’s profession and one develops a proud sense of self and identity within.

Identity And Mental Health

What happens to the athlete who goes pro and then his career ends after a few years, then what? At that point the athlete may have a family to support and thus experiences symptoms of anxiety and an overwhelming sense of dread and inadequacy not having a way to support one’s family. Additionally, a loss of sense of self, of identity, has a dramatic and profound effect on one’s mental and physical health and wellness. Not knowing what next steps to take and feeling at a complete loss for what to do can lead to symptoms of depression. For when one feels out of control of one’s life, one feels overwhelmed and thus one’s thoughts become blurred as to how to take action. One’s brain feels like it is coated, “blurry thought” is how I explain it to my clients, to where a vision for what can be is unclear. For there was never a co-interest that remained on the shelf for when the time should so come to access it. Thus, having a co-interest is indeed of significance and matters. Though it is for many an athlete not easy to access what one’s co-interest is or could be, without having someone to talk it through with. For some, they may seek out counseling to discuss. For others, they may find the unique friend, or family member, or agent that they connect with who holds the philosophy of having a co-interest.

Athletic Representation – Your Agent Matters

Recently a friend of mine from childhood named Ronnie Zeidel made a shift in his career and now represents basketball players. Ronnie started his professional journey from basketball operations with the New York Nicks to associate publisher of SLAM Magazine to founder and president of Clutch Media and Marketing to working for the NBA and NCAA. Now he has shifted in his profession and provides athlete representation, thus helping players with his agency: RZA sports. When Ronnie informed me that he is now a representative for athletes specifically in basketball and wants to assure that they have something in addition to basketball as a skill set since as he stated; “many of the most skilled players only play for four to five years”, I experienced such excitement for the athletes he would be representing. Ronnie shared with me that he helps “athletes identify other interests outside of hoops so that we can collectively find other outlets and interests to focus on in the off season so when their career comes to an abrupt stop there are options.” Knowing this is a piece of the service that Ronnie will provide to his clientele, leaves me through my lens as a Psychotherapist/Marriage and Family Therapist to know that those he represents will be truly helped to help themselves to have a strong and confident sense of self that goes beyond the identification as athlete.

Just as coaches matter, parents matter, friends matter, teachers matter, therapists matter . . . indeed, agents matter. Those whom identify themselves as athletes, the people they surround themselves with matter, and can be the difference that makes the difference on their life journey. If you wish to learn more about basketball agent Ronnie’s professional path, and what he can do for you as an athlete agent, check out his website: RZA sports

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