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How to Manage Breakups

Updated: May 30, 2023

Spring is a magical time of the year when everything around us seems to come alive. Flowers begin to bloom, and the world is transformed into a beautiful and colorful paradise. However, for young people, this season can also be a time of tension and strain in their relationships. Perhaps they too, like the flowers, desire something new and different. Whatever the reason may be, emotions often run high, leading to rocky experiences and sometimes even breakups. It can be a confusing and challenging time for everyone involved, including coaches, parents and the athletes themselves.


I've worked with numerous student-athletes who have gone through breakups and have struggled to recover. The truth is that breakups can be one of the most challenging experiences anyone can go through, and for athletes, the impact can be even more significant. The pain and emotional turmoil can be distracting, and it can affect your performance both on and off the field, court or pool.


The first thing you need to understand is that it's entirely normal to feel the way you do. Breakups happen and it's okay to take the time you need to grieve and heal. However, it's also important to take steps to move forward, even when it feels impossible. I want to discuss some of the most significant challenges that come with breakups and offer some tips on how to recover.


Challenge #1: Loss of identity

One of the biggest challenges of going through a breakup is the loss of identity that often comes with it. For athletes, their sport is a significant part of their identity, and when they are in a relationship, their partner may become intertwined with that identity and social group. This can make it difficult to navigate the breakup and rediscover who they are as an individual, especially if a lot of their validation and sense of self-worth came from their romantic partner. Many young people feel lost when their partner is no longer a part of their daily routines and activities. It can take time to find a new rhythm and establish a sense of self outside of the relationship. But it's important to stay patient and know that you will find your own rhythm again and all your friends will eventually become comfortable as well.


Solution: Reconnect with yourself

Reconnecting with yourself is an essential first step to recovering from a breakup. Take some time to reflect on your values, goals and passions. Revisit the hobbies and activities you enjoyed before the relationship and explore new ones. This is an opportunity to rediscover who you are and embrace your individuality.


Self-care is crucial during this time. While it can be tempting to act out by engaging in destructive behaviors like substance use, emotional eating, or neglecting self-care altogether, it's important to be kind to yourself and take care of your body, mind and heart. Engage in activities that nourish you, such as creative outlets, music, meditation/prayer or spending time in nature. Surround yourself with positive influences and people who support your healing journey.


Challenge #2: Distraction and loss of focus

Breakups can be very distracting, and it's easy to lose focus on your athletic performance. The emotional turmoil can affect your ability to concentrate, leading to mistakes and underperformance. It can also impact your motivation to attend practice, interact with your teammates, or travel to upcoming competitions. Additionally, it's common to get caught in a cycle of rumination, where you can't stop thinking about your ex-partner and you spend most of your energy trying to keep yourself from texting, calling or reaching out.


Solution: Create a plan

To regain your focus, create a plan that prioritizes your athletic performance. Make a list of your goals and create a training plan that will help you achieve them. Focus on the process and take it one step at a time. By having a plan in place, you'll be able to focus your energy on your athletic performance. Cast your eyes upward and forward and your body and mind tend to follow. Create the plan and then work the plan. Pull in a few trusted people to help you stick with your plan.


Challenge #3: Feelings of hopelessness

It's common to feel hopeless after a breakup, especially if you were deeply invested in the relationship. You may feel like you'll never find love again or that you'll never be able to move on from the pain. The more vulnerable you were with this person, the more difficult it is to move on. For young people, coping with a breakup can be even more challenging as they may not have developed their emotional coping skills fully. It can feel like the end of the world, and the pain can be earth-shattering.


I've noticed that those who struggle the most with this are often the ones who believe that they are unworthy of love or happiness. This limited belief can make it difficult to see a future where they will find someone who cares for them or that they deserve more than what they had in the past relationship. But it's essential to remember that everyone deserves love and happiness, and with time, the pain will fade, and you will be able to move on to a better future. Coaches and parents, this experience can take a young person to a place of despair. Do your best to not dismiss their pain.


Solution: Practice self-compassion

When you're feeling hopeless after a breakup, it's important to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Acknowledge that it's okay to feel the way you do and treat yourself with the same kindness you would show a friend going through a tough time. By practicing self-compassion, you can start to develop a more positive outlook on the future.

It's also important to get curious about any limited beliefs you may have about yourself. If you find yourself thinking that you are worthless, helpless, or unlovable, these beliefs are likely holding you back from moving forward. Take the time to explore these beliefs and challenge them. Ask yourself if they are based on facts or simply negative self-talk. Once you start to recognize and challenge these limiting beliefs, you'll be able to shift your mindset and move forward with a more positive outlook. Remember, self-compassion and self-awareness are powerful tools for healing and personal growth.


Challenge #4: Trust issues

After a breakup, it's common to experience trust issues. You may find it challenging to trust others. It might also be difficult to trust your parents or coaches. Especially if you have felt like your feelings have been minimized in the past. Parents and coaches, be mindful of this. It is also important to note that your level of safety with your shared community of friends might feel compromised. This is normal. This, too, will feel safe again in time.


Solution: Work on building trust

Remember, it takes time to heal and regain trust in others. Keep expressing your emotions and concerns to your parents, coaches and friends. Parents and coaches, by showing empathy and understanding, you can help your athlete navigate their trust issues and work towards building healthy relationships in the future.


Consider the tips above and, if they don't seem to lessen the pain, consider also talking to a mental health professional who can help you process your emotions and develop coping strategies. Communicate with your coach and teammates, letting them know that you are going through a difficult time and may need some extra support.


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