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Posted on April 12, 2021

Identity Crisis

Dear all current and past athletes,

The world of sport at a glance seems simple, you practice, you compete, you win or you lose. The emotion is fueled by the commitment to your craft, the mental and physical discipline necessary to compete at the highest level. Memories are forged with experiences through the underdog stories, the late goals, the unselfish plays and ultimately the championships. These moments, as the athlete, is what we live for and is why we invest so much of our time into it.

I want to use this opportunity to dive deeper into the minds of athletes, to truly open up to why the sport is so important to us. Speaking from experiences playing varsity-level soccer in university, and going through the provincial and national team programs, I now, as a physiotherapist, understand further the challenges and hardship that athletes go through.

Let us begin by analyzing “Sport” from the lens of an athlete. Sport can be defined as an activity that requires physical exertion that usually involves competition. To an athlete, sports are not just 90-minute games, 12-minute quarters, or 20-minute periods, it’s our life. Anyone who is playing at a competitive level has invested many years of time into training. Sport has integrated itself into our lives and became what everything else revolves around. How a day in the life of an athlete can be broken down into “the time before practice or games” and “the time after practice or games”. We see our meals as fuel, and our daily tasks take a backseat to “Sport”. Yes, that includes socializing with friends, sleep, and even schoolwork (sorry mom & dad)

Why do athletes invest so much time into training, competition, and becoming the best that we can be? The short answer to that is, every single one of us has dreamed of playing professionally. Even me, my first career choice was not to be a physiotherapist, but rather, to play soccer professionally. Playing a sport professionally means more than being compensated for dribbling a basketball down a court or kicking a ball into a net. Being a professional athlete is about doing what you have devoted your whole life into perfecting at the highest level and about the pure joy of doing what you love.

When we play, (this goes for everyone who does an activity that they enjoy), the decision to play is based solely on our wants and offers us full autonomy to our actions. Having this autonomy allows us to be exactly who we are as an individual, which naturally drives our passion towards the sport.

What happens when you take sport away from an athlete? The separation can be the result of injury, the end of your eligibility, career re-focusing, or even currently COVID-19. There comes a time when sport is going to stop. When this time comes, it’s not as simple as moving onto something else. Understand that, after dedicating several years of our lives to sport, it becomes part of our identity. I was always known as Tony the soccer player, and that is how I truly perceived myself as well. Then to have that taken away, is to have a part of my identity taken away as well. The words “you are going to be out for 6-8 weeks” means more than just time off, it’s mentally devastating to the athlete. It adds more stress into our lives even though we technically have more time for school and work. It sends us into an identity crisis, where we are at high risk of losing one of the most important part of ourselves. This is why athletes like to avoid seeking out treatment, because taking us out of our sport is worse than the risk of further injury. When the sport does come to an end, there will be a sense of loss and uncertainty.

I’m writing to you now having been on both sides, as a retired athlete and as a physiotherapist [resident], I’m letting you know that you do recover, and you do get back to your sport.  You do find something else that gives you that same joy and passion you had for your sport. I’m writing to you saying that it is okay to seek out treatment after an injury, because we as physiotherapists, chiropractors, & massage therapists understand that “it’s not just a sport to you.”

To all those soon to be retired athletes, it’s going to be okay after everything is over. Just like how a sport is more than just a sport to you, you are more than just your sport to the world.

Tony Li – Resident Physiotherapist

Grey Method Physiotherapy & Massage Therapy