“The ties that bind us are sometimes impossible to explain. They connect us even after it seems like the ties should be broken. Some bonds defy distance and time and logic; because some ties are simply... meant to be." - Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
In sports, loss is guaranteed. It’s talked about mostly in the form of losing a game or competition, but loss comes in different forms. It can come in the form of losing your sport from unexpected circumstances, from your body losing the ability to do your sport, and even from losing a teammate or coach. I feel like all of these types of loss are unacknowledged in the sports world, and yet have the most impact on the mental health of athletes, or really anyone involved.
I’ve unfortunately lost two coaches during my time in gymnastics, and I know many of my other high school friends in sports have lost a coach or teammate as well. I also know that athletes who have lost these important people in their lives, have lost many to suicide. The pressures put on athletes, coaches, and anyone involved in sports is extremely high, and no one notices these things until it’s too late. Mental health resources need to be made more available to all athletes and coaches, and more importantly, destigmatized. It’s okay to need to go ask for help. It shouldn’t be normalized for you to suppress whatever you’re feeling, whether you’re suffering from these immense pressures, or dealing with the consequences of loss.
For me, recently, I’ve still been struggling with the loss of one of my coaches, especially since it came at a time when I had just lost my sport. Writing was always the way for me to let out whatever emotion I needed to get out, but with this, I had no words. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, and I didn’t want to think about it, but I continued to find myself doing some other type of work, still thinking about the loss I was experiencing. I finally reached out to our sports psychologist, and she helped me talk out my emotions. It was unbelievably uncomfortable for me to do, especially because I’m someone who struggles to show any sort of vulnerability. But right after I did it, I was able to write, and here’s a short snippet of what I was feeling:
“It’s funny that you can leave somewhere you spent so much time in, and just tuck it away in your past. You just assume that world stops when you leave, because you’ve moved on to other things.
I’ve never actually gotten punched in the stomach, unless you count from bars, but hearing my coach was gone was the most immediate, gut wrenching pain I’ve ever felt. I don’t think I’m over the initial shock and grief yet, and I keep finding myself remembering little things he did for me. Everything about who I am today, where I’ve ended up, and what I plan on being in the future has been shaped by him. All I wanted in that moment, was to go back to that place in my past that I had tucked away.
In the gym, he was a ray of light that helped me fall back in love with the sport. At a point where I didn’t see myself going anywhere with gymnastics, and hated going in the gym, he made it fun again. I loved the challenge of it. The first time he coached me, it was on beam, out of all things. I never thought I’d be able to do a side aerial, after trying countless times and doing every drill possible. Turns out the only thing I needed was confidence and someone to believe in me. After that, I trusted him with everything I had. I would say my best times in gymnastics were with him just letting me play in the gym, even when I was supposed to be on a break from practice. He never limited me, he only believed in me and forced me to believe in myself, and always did it with a smile.
He was the first person to get myself to truly understand that strength is something you choose.”
Writing this, and reaching out for help to figure out what I was feeling, was the only way I was able to begin to accept this loss, and it also began to help me close the gymnast chapter in my life that I didn’t want to close. Like I said, being vulnerable is hard, but hopefully me sharing this, can inspire anyone else facing loss to seek help, without the fear of judgement.