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5 Issues Athletes Struggle With When Benched Due To Injury: #4 Loss Of Important Relationships

Issue #4: The Importance of Relationships with Peer and Adult Role Models

Getting involved in sports gives kids ample opportunities to build relationships with positive peers and adult role models. The relationships they build with upperclassmen, their team captain, the assistant coach, the athletic trainer, give them a support system of healthy adult relationships that pour strength and direction into their life. Teenagers and young adults rely heavily on their role model relationships. These people encourage them, support them, motivate them. Just one “good work” from the assistant coach or a high five from the team captain can substantially improve any day. Approval from these people helps them feel accepted,  and understood. These people have to power to encourage the development of positive behavior traits in your athlete as they progress through their teen years. These relationships are so powerful and meaningful.

Christa with her favorite dance instructor in high school.

Christa with her favorite dance instructor in high school.

When your athlete is sidelined due to injury, often they start to lose connection in these relationships. The interactions are different and no longer based on merit or skill development. They don’t get the approval high fives or an encouraging “great play!” They may feel like they are distracting or “annoying” these people when they talk to them on the sideline. Your athlete may feel like their injury took away the very thing that made them valuable to this person. They used to talk to their role model every day during practice, but now that person has advice for the people on the field. Without even realizing it, the role model may stop talking to your athlete as much which makes your athlete feel neglected or rejected. Sometimes, your athlete may not get the chance to talk to this person at all because they keep missing practice for doctor appointments or rehab. Losing this close connection can be devastating for your child and have a huge impact on their self-esteem.   


Strategies we suggest:

As much as you want to fill the void for your child, chances are, you probably can’t. Adolescents and young adults build relationships with role models outside of their family on purpose. Having this special relationship is so important for your child it would be better to nurture the relationship they have than to try to replace it. It would be good to try to figure out who this role model is for your child. Its likely you’ve already heard their name 100 times but just didn’t put the pieces together. When you notice your athlete is going through something and you don’t have the right advice, or your child doesn’t want your advice, you can encourage them to go to this person for help.

Allan with his assistant coach at Temple University.

Allan with his assistant coach at Temple University.

Now, this may be a surprise to you, but teenagers don’t like asking for help. (just kidding, we know you already knew that) And they often don’t know how to ask for the help they need. When they do ask for it, its piled under layers of sarcasm, humor, or angry ranting, sometimes a request for help may be overlooked. If you pay special attention, and you find something your child admits they need help with, use this opportunity to encourage them to reach out.

Encouraging them to ask for help won’t be easy. They likely will responds with something along the lines of “Nah, I don’t want to bother them.” Because your athlete feels inadequate, small, defeated. It may be easier to bring up something small they are struggling with and ask if their role model might have a solution for that. Even if they tell you no at the time, you have planted a seed. If they have the opportunity tomorrow, they will be more inclined to reach out. Once they realize they can go to that person with a small problem, they are likely to keep up the relationship. Keeping up with this person will help them feel encouraged to keep talking until they get to the bigger problem. In this case, your role is not to solve the problem, but to remind your athlete that people in their life care about them, especially this role model. You can help them realize they have the extra support and that this supportive person cares how they feel. Helping them reconnect with their role model can make a huge difference in their self-esteem and help them get relatable advice to help them cope.


Many strategies, especially conversational strategies, are based off the information provided in the book The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. This book offers strategies for parents and clinicians to help children deal with trauma, loss, and grief while taking their brain development into account. This book is a fantastic read and helps the reader understand the behaviors of children based on where they are in brain development. We highly recommend this book to parents, coaches, and anyone who works with children.

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