What happens when your child suffers an injury or health condition that no longer allows them to participate in sports? This is the same question Christine Pinalto asked when her son Cade was permanently sidelined from playing basketball in the seventh grade after being diagnosed with a heart condition.
Cade’s life revolved around his sport and losing the ability to compete meant the loss of his aspirations, identity, social circle, physical outlet, and more. Cade struggled for several years with his devastating loss but finally found personal healing through re-engaging with his sport through a mentorship in coaching. Looking back on his journey to find personal acceptance, Cade and his mother Christine acknowledged a serious lack of resources available for sidelined athletes and their parents. Together, they founded Sidelined USA to support medically disqualified athletes—just like Cade— in making the mental shift toward acceptance and to inspire them to re-engage with the sports world through alternative avenues.
Sidelined USA is a non-profit organization that supports athletes who have been permanently sidelined due to career-ending injury, health condition, or repeat concussion and inspires them to find a meaningful way forward. Through Sidelined USA’s program, permanently sidelined athletes and their families are offered free coping resources, social support, and mentorship opportunities.
Medically disqualified athletes can expect to go through a grieving process as they adjust to their new limitations. According to Sidelined USA, the process comprises seven stages of grief and transition: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. Research reveals athletes who can no longer participate in their sport due to career-ending injury can experience a range of emotional responses including: grief, identity loss, anxiety, fear, loss of confidence, depression, alcohol and opiate abuse, suicidal thoughts, and diminished life satisfaction years later.(Alfermann et al., 2004; Lally 2007; Pearson & Petitpas, 1990, and Kleiber & Brock, 1992.)
Whether you have a career ending injury or not, at some point you will be forced to retire from competing in the sports you love on a regular basis. Only 1.2% percent of male NCAA basketball players make it to pro. The odds are even lower for women basketball players at a low 0.9%. However, getting your child involved in sports is a positive, enriching experience with takeaways that go far beyond the physical. The life skills and team building sports provide can become tools that sidelined athletes can later use in coaching, sports medicine career, and even business.
Athletic trainers are a critical part of the team and a medical resource to not only the athlete and coach, but the parent. They offer an unbiased opinion because your child’s safety is their biggest priority regardless of the team’s winning record. They advocate for their athletes with health conditions and injuries and can provide alternatives to those seeking help. Because athletes who have been medically disqualified are at a higher risk for further mental health implications, Sidelined USA serves as a knowledge base for athletic trainers, providing them with special resources to support a healthy psychological recovery.
“At Sidelined USA, we recognize athletic trainers as some of the most influential members of the sidelined athlete’s support network. While participating in the physical recovery of the sidelined athlete, the athletic trainer is uniquely positioned to also impact the athlete’s emotional recovery,” says Christine Pinalto, Executive Director, Sidelined USA. Medically disqualified athlete and Sidelined USA President, Cade Pinalto adds, “Permanently sidelined athletes often struggle with identity loss when their sport is taken away from them and can feel helpless and alone as they face their new reality. It is important that the support network surrounding the athlete is prepared to help the sidelined athlete recover on both a physical and psychological level.”
If your loved one becomes sidelined, please remember there are free resources available to support them as they come to terms with their situation and to help them find a meaningful way forward.