Introducing Transitions: Becoming Elite Outside The Lines
Posted by: Kamille Larrabee | University of Denver Sports Psychology
What is a Transition?
Anyone in and around the sporting world recognizes that athletes deal with their fair amount of transitions, both large and small. Transitions are the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another, meaning the types of transitions an athlete may encounter can be as small as being asked to play a new position or as big as transitioning out of playing sports altogether. One of the most important parts in learning to grow through transition periods is the understanding that each individual experience will be different, even if they are going through the same transition.
Types of Transitions
When discussing transitions there are typically two main types: anticipated and unanticipated. We will be covering both types of transitions in two consecutive posts this summer. To start, we’ll discuss anticipated transitions. What makes anticipated transitions unique is that they allow you to be proactive; you can begin to prepare yourself BEFORE the period of transition begins as to set yourself up for success. There are a number of common anticipated transitions that all athletes encounter during their athletic career. Below are a few of those transitions and various challenges that accompany them.
Joining a New Team/Competition Level:
Joining a new team can be a fairly significant transition for an athlete. It requires learning a new team culture, adjusting to new teammates and coaches, a new style of play, and a new practice and competition schedule. There is also a large social component of joining a new team, especially when the athlete does not know any of their new teammates, or they are the only new player. To ease this transition, athletes can focus on getting to know other players who share their same position and begin to learn the style of play and the flow of practices.
Athletes can also get to know their new teammates outside of practices and competitions to begin to form friendships that go beyond athletics. For an athlete that has the chance to join a new competition level, the transition can be stressful for a few different reasons. Often, an athlete can feel increased pressure to perform when the competition level is elevated. Transitioning into a different competition level is also often accompanied by increased practice and competition demands, which can cause an athlete’s academic and social needs to no longer be met.
Adjusting to High School or Collegiate Athletics:
Beginning high school or college is a huge transition for both athletes and non-athletes. Specifically, adjusting to playing sports in those environments can be stressful for both players and parents. Transitioning into high school sport can be a challenge for a number of reasons. For many athletes, it’s the first time they are playing with/against athletes who are two to four years older than they are, which can be intimidating! High school sports are also often the first taste that an athlete gets of practicing/training five or six days a week. This can also be an adjustment for parents, as this is usually the first time they are not transporting their athlete to practices and games, which places a greater deal of responsibility on the athlete to ensure they have everything they need to practice and play. This period of transition is a great opportunity for athletes to learn from some of their older teammates.The transition into collegiate athletics has many elements involved on top of an increase in competition level and time devoted to athletics. Athletes are also adjusting to increased academic demands, living away from home for the first time, living with a new person, etc. This transition time is a great opportunity to learn from teammates and peers about strategies they are using/used to help with this transition. A huge benefit of being an athlete is having teammates, especially older teammates who have gone through the same experience – reach out to them!
Regardless of why an athlete’s career is ending, the transition out of sport can be a particularly tough one. One of the most important things to remember is that your sport is what you did, NOT who you are. Being able to separate your self-identity from your athletic identity is one of the best, but hardest, ways to ease this transition. Another way to look at this transition period is as a time to begin to explore other athletic, academic, artistic, etc. interests that you’ve always had, but haven’t been able to pursue (yet!).
Strategies For Growing Through Your Transition:
As we’ve outlined, there are a number of potential sources of transitional stress for athletes. The symptoms of these stressors can actually be quite severe in some cases (see graphic, below). For this reason, it is important to find strategies that work for the athlete (or parent) to aid in managing the stress. We’ve highlighted some recommended strategies, here.
Routines can be a huge help during transition periods, regardless how big or small. Implementing and sticking to routines can help reduce the overwhelming feeling that transitions bring by adding an element of stability to your day. These routines can be daily or weekly, to help athletes settle into their new roles as they go through their transition period.
- Ie. Going to sleep at 10 PM every night, and waking up between 7-8 AM every morning.
- Ie. Staying 20-30 minutes after practice every Tuesday to work on a specific skill.
- Ie. Getting all my math homework done Monday afternoon, so I can work on my history homework on Wednesday.
Routines can be a huge help during transition periods, regardless how big or small. Implementing and sticking to routines can help reduce the overwhelming feeling that transitions bring by adding an element of stability to your day. These routines can be daily or weekly to help athletes settle into their new roles as they go through their transition period.
- Sleep: Sleep is often times one of the first things to be disrupted during stressful times, yet it is essential to proper physical and mental recovery. Maintaining a healthy and regular sleep schedule is encouraged all the time, but especially while in a transition period. Some tips for creating and maintaining a sleep schedule are: setting regular sleep and wake times, limiting screen time while in bed, and sleeping in a cool dark room.
- Nutrition: Proper nutrition and hydration are always important, especially for athletes. During transition periods that include a new schedule, it can be hard to block off time to eat nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day (especially for athletes transitioning into high school and college athletics). Remember, it’s difficult to continue to perform at your best or get better if your body is not properly fueled!
- Hobbies: As an athlete, sometimes it is hard to imagine focusing on anything other than your sport, however it is important to have other interests or hobbies. Taking some time away from your sport, even if it is just one afternoon, can help increase your motivation and mood while at practices and games. These hobbies can be other athletic activities, social activities, or artistic interests. Especially during times of transition, spending time engaging in these hobbies can reduce the feelings of stress and nervousness that athletes can carry with them outside of practices and games.
Goal Setting and Reflection:
- Goal Setting: Spend a few minutes writing down some goals for the upcoming school year and season. When writing down these goals, try to focus on specific and attainable goals where your progress can be measured. Also, write these goals down and put them in a space where you’ll see them daily – like your bathroom mirror!
- Reflection: Beginning a new season is a great opportunity to reflect on your past season. Reflect on the things you did well, the things you wish to improve on, and the skills that you are bringing to your new team this upcoming season that you can teach others.
Parents and Coaches:
During these transition times, the biggest thing for parents/coaches is to understand and notice the signs and symptoms of transitional stress and be a resource for your child/athlete. Communication is key throughout transition periods. If you notice any signs that they are struggling with their transition, try communicating with them by using open-ended questions (what do you need from me, how do you feel about [transition], how are you coping with your stress, etc). Consider approaching your child/athlete with a strategy for helping them; remind them of a hobby they enjoy, encourage them to see a friend they haven’t seen in a while, etc. Finally, empathize. Though much easier said than done, showing empathy and support through challenging transitions will allow the child/athlete to grow and learn to better manage stress.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about types of transitions and transitional stress! We will continue the conversation around transitions in next month’s newsletter by exploring strategies around unanticipated transitions. Thanks for reading!