After working with High School athletes for 18 years I will never underestimate the power of season-ending pain.
The horn signals the end of the game and feelings flood from every possible place. They range from deep grief, to incredible fear…culminating in an underlying sense of worry, and possible panic to name just a few.
What is interesting is that as parents or close friends we will do anything in this moment to have that pain GO AWAY!! Saying things like, “You played a great game.” or “Your team had a great year.” Although well intended, these simple comments that are most likely true, are not helpful. The truth is, we do not like to see our loved ones in pain!! We will say whatever we need to in order to reduce the deep feelings that are on display, in many cases for all to see.
I am writing this because I want to try to give guidance to help you know how to handle these types of moments in a manner that brings great value to the one you are seeking to support. Pain, turmoil, grief, sadness, disappointment, discouragement, regret, stress, uncertainty, and confusion are all very prevalent human emotions. These emotions are experienced with a variety of different intensities ranging from minor irritations to gut wrenching.
Your challenge is to be with your loved ones IN THE EMOTION because there are great opportunities inherent within these moments. Unfortunately, it is common for many to NUMB, AVOID, or RATIONALIZE the presence of these emotions through a variety of numbing, avoiding, and rationalizing techniques. When you treat others experiencing deep emotions with an immediate need to GET RID OF THEM you dehumanize what led to those deeply held emotions.
For the athletes and families that have invested thousands of hours into the sport, not to mention a small fortune, the final horn represents loss, sadness, uncertainty, and for many, confusion about what is to come next. This is also true for parents that have sat and watched hours and hours of games together and through that have gained some life-long friends. Although you are concerned about your loved ones, there is also a sense of loss for yourselves. I want to respectfully challenge you to be careful where deeply held emotions are present.
For this reason I offer these suggestions:
Respect the deep emotions of your loved one. They are most likely coming from years and years of experiences and memories. What I mean by respect, is learn to appreciate the honor inherent in deeply held sadness and what it symbolizes. Respect can often be communicated through time. Silence can be very respectful.
When some time has passed check in by asking this question: “I know what you are going through is difficult, is there anything you need?” This question respects the challenge but also says, “I am in this with you.”
As the opportunity presents itself, you could say: “At some point I would like to share some things with you about my experience with endings and what I felt. Let me know when a good time might be for you.”
There is no doubt these are difficult experiences that require a thoughtful approach.
Remember, although this blog is focused on sports, the horn is going off in our lives in many ways all the time. Becoming skilled at handling emotions is a skill that is valuable beyond measure. For those that have had season-ending pain I offer my heartfelt appreciation for the dedication, sacrifice, commitment, and masterful skills that you executed.
I LOVED WATCHING YOU PLAY!!!