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How to Help Athletes Maintain a Positive Body Image After Sport

Mom and daughter sitting outside in sunlight in conversation. 

When a competitive athlete leaves sport, permanently or briefly to recover from an injury or pursue another activity, it's normal to feel a mixture of emotions. Even if the athlete is choosing to take a break from sport, issues surrounding body image, nutrition, and exercise outside of regimented practice can still come up.

Here, TrueSport Expert and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Melissa Streno explains how parents can help guide athletes through this transition period while maintaining a positive body image.

Start before they finish

Parents should be helping athletes create an identity outside of sport and within other support systems even before an athlete is considering a break. Our interests contribute to how we define ourselves, so parents can help make their child's identity diverse by letting them choose many activities to try, and by role modeling and encouraging them with realistic, healthy expectations.

"This way, when sport does inevitably come to an end, they can feel there are other realms in their life where they're connected, comfortable, and accepted. Then it doesn't feel like their whole world is caving in after sport," says Streno. "And as a side note, diverse interests actually help us be more successful in sport anyway!"

Help them create new routines

"Many young athletes have followed a certain path that's centered around attaining or maintaining an appearance, often in a really detrimental way," Streno says. "They have very specific routines and behaviors, and they've been on autopilot. It's hard to change when that's all they've known. When redefining a relationship with food and exercise after sport, help them get the appropriate professional help to learn what their body really needs."