In a study with 256 parents nationally from 22 states we found that roughly 1 in 5 have had children who, after getting cut from their high school sports team and finding limited options in the school or town to replace their team sport, started dealing with depression, anxiety or other riskier behaviors such as substance abuse or an eating disorder. There are solutions cropping up in many communities, most focused on younger populations, but in some school districts there is a significant gap in programs that can fill a similar need for student-athletes who have spent 10+ years in many cases playing ‘competitive’ sports. ‘Getting cut is one thing, but when all you’ve done is compete in youth sports for most of your life, it’s hard to replace that and without that outlet, kids are hurting, in some cases losing an identity,’ says therapist Ron Prose of Michigan.
Susan Matai, who works as an administrator at a high school in New Mexico, says the only PE available before or after school is organized sports. ‘It is greatly encouraged at this school that students be involved, but there are limits as to how many can be on the teams (state rules). There are no other outlets available.’
These challenges aren’t surprising if you think of the high schooler who has played sports for 15 years and finds herself left with a void. Parents, admittedly, say they are part of the problem – 48% saying they feel that void too and this ‘probably creates tension’ or ‘stress’ in the house. ‘But you can’t exactly match sports intensity – it’s different,’ says Mark Falja, 51, who says he became overly abusive verbally after his oldest son missed the varsity team and decided to join the mock-trial club instead. ‘That’s a great shift,’ says April Somers, a guidance counselor and therapist for a public school system in Wisconsin. But it’s counterproductive if the dad doesn’t support the change. Falja acknowledged to us that he couldn’t replace the stress and satisfaction of watching his son play in AAA games and tournaments – ‘it was my drug…and I went too far after he was cut.’ Falja’s son has been in various counseling. He attends a college in the area but does not talk to the guy who used to bring him to all those hoops games. Said Kevin, now 19: ‘It was always a tutorial on what I did wrong – I actually wasn’t totally upset when I got cut, but then it got worse at home.’
Of the 20% who are struggling with a behavioral condition, all but one played some version of elite sports or travel sports.