Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Managing Career and Sporting Transitions

Irrespective of what our career is, what sport we do, or what our personal life looks like, we all go through a number of points in our lives where major changes occur.  Our ability to prepare for and deal with these times of change - or transitions as they are popularly called - can be a major determinant of success both on and off the field. Dealing with small transitions successful can help us manage bigger, more significant transitions later in life.

Some of the major transitions that an athletes faces include:
  • The transition from junior to senior competition
  • The transition from school to university
  • The transition from university to the world of work or full-time sport
  • Retirement from sport
There may be a number of other significant transitions which have the potential to impact on your sport. These may include becoming a parent, changing coach, changing event, becoming an Olympian, or becoming famous.

Because of the difficulties many athletes experience, the retirement transition is the one which we hear the most about, and we have blogged about it to some extent here.  But the purpose of this post is to look at transitions in general, and highlight some of the skills required for smooth transitioning from one phase of your life to the next.

Transitions are often viewed as stressful events, with hurdles and pitfalls.  But that's not always the case.  Indeed many transitions bring with them new opportunities, and making the most of these opportunities can have long-lasting benefits.  The change of environment that often comes with a transition can also offer a fresh perspective of life, and of your sport, and renew the mind and soul for the sporting efforts that lie ahead.

Resilience can be helpful in dealing with the more difficult challenges that transitions bring. Check out last week's introduction to resilience post for more information.  These are some of the other steps that we can take to ensure smooth transitions from one phase of our lives to the next.

1. List all the things that will be changing

It’s often easier to face something if we know exactly what we’re facing, and when it comes to transitions, it’s a good idea to list all the things that well be changing.  Transitions such starting university involve more than just a change in the place of study, and can coincide with numerous other mini transitions.  The following are just some of the things that may be changing around that time:
  • Moving city (or country)
  • Living away from home for the first time
  • Cooking for self
  • Budgeting for self
  • New teaching/learning styles
  • Own responsibility to attend lectures
  • New coach
  • New training group
  • Increased training load
  • Moving from junior to senior competition
  • New independence
  • Living away from friends
  • Legally old enough to drink alcohol
Once you have made a list of all the things that will be changing (location, educational, social and sporting), you can thing about which ones scare you, which ones will cause difficulty, and which ones you can prepare for.

2. Decide on your goals for the transition

In a previous post, we spoke about how goal setting can be the basis for all good lifestyle planning, and here is not exception.  If you know what the purpose of the transition is, and what you want to achieve following the transition, you can cope a lot better.  If you are changing training group because it is better for your longterm development, then it might be easier to manage transitions around that, and if you want to be an international athlete, the temptations of student life might be less tempting for you.  Goals help to keep you focused and manage your life.  They can also help motivate you to make a success of any transition that you are going through.

3. Plan and prepare

Much planning and preparation can be done in advance of a transition that will help overcome the potential hurdles.  Those planning for retirement can start to acquire new skills that will help increase their employment opportunities well in advance, and those due to start university in the next year or so can learn some of the skills that will help them to live on their own.  Set aside time to become proficient in cooking 3 or 4 different meals.  Avail of any one-off opportunities to meet or train with your new coach/training group in advance of the start of term.  Visit the university.  If driving will make the transition easier, make sure that you have passed your test in advance of starting term.

4. Speak to people that have undergone this transition

Taking the opportunity to speak to other individuals who have undergone the transition that you are about to face will help ease any concerns that you might have, and may highlight other preparation that you have to do.  Speaking to older athletes in your sport is a good starting point for those about to start university.

5. Discuss your concerns

If you have any concerns, or are anxious about the whole transition, be sure to speak to someone. Speaking through your concerns will help to distinguish between actual areas which you can prepare for, and issues which you are needlessly concerned about.  Through talking, you may also be able to find individuals who can help you with particular areas of preparation.  Writing down the things that scare you may also help.

6. Look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead

Each transition brings with it opportunities.  Transitions help us to grow and to ‘raise the bar’.  Don’t be afraid to get excited about these opportunities, and be ready to avail of other opportunities that result as a by product of the transition.

7. Keep some things consistent

You may also benefit from keeping something consistent in your life.  For athletes starting university, just continuing to compete in your sport will be that consistent thing.  Retiring athletes who walk the dog daily, for example, should continue to do so.  However, be careful here.  Trying to life your old life rather than availing of opportunities in your new life will only lead to regret.  If you feel that you need to make a clean break, do so.

We will look specifically at retirement transition planning in a future post.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

An introduction to Resilience

A few weeks ago I took part in a BASES Webinar on Developing Resilience.  The session, delivered by Mustafa Serkar from the University of Gloucestershire and Paul Morgan (Bucks New University) was very informative.  Resilience is a very topical area at the moment, and is relievant not just to sport, but to business and other areas of life.  I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of the main points from the session.  The full webinar can be downloaded here, but  you'll need to register for a Human Kinetics account first.

What is resilience?

  • Resilience training programmes may help prevent against mental illness while at the same time boosting achievement levels and productivity.
  • Resilience should be seen as a form of 'ordinary magic' that we all possess, rather than some special skill that only the gifted have.
  • Resilience is a progressive phenomenon that involves sustained long-term betterment, rather than some sort of quick fix that can be applied to a problem or situation.
  • Resilient individuals or teams are those who are able to respond positively to change.
  • Resilience is not the same as bouncing back from a setback.  It is not a fixed trait, and can be trained.
  • Most importantly, resilience is not the absence or suppression of emotions.  Embracing emotions, both positive and negative, is an important part of building resilience.  We have mentioned before about the importance of embracing emotions, rather than suppressing them, in the prevention of mental illness in athletes, and this seems to be a recurring theme.

Building Resilience

Failure and setbacks are both important in building resilience.  Individuals who are proactive and seek change and improvement, build resilience.  Maintaining confidence (in self and support network) is an important component of resilience.  You develop better resilience from failure that from playing it safe.  Many successful individuals have reported that adversity-related incidents were crucial in their development as top athletes.

During times of change, individuals and teams should stay focused on the bigger picture.  Discussing what is learned from setbacks will help build resilience.

We can choose to see pressure as either a challenge or as a threat.  Those who see it as a challenge will cope better.  Therefore, developing resilience will involve the individual or the team changing their mindset so that they see pressure as a challenge and an opportunity for growth, learning and development.

Groups should be encouraged to openly discuss resilience and what they learn from pressure situations and adversity.  Players should be given ownership and encouraged to be involved in developing solutions to overcome adversity. Falling back on plan B and plan C should become second nature. Individuals should be encouraged to seek challenge.

Using praise following an adverse situation can also be useful.

Key Points

  • Resilience is a positive response to change.
  • We shouldn't be afraid seek challenges.  Don't always play it safe.
  • Learn to view pressure as a challenge rather than a threat.
  • Become involved in developing your own solutions to overcome adversity

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Feeling a little peckish? Suitable lunch time meals

The role of lunch for an athlete is twofold. Its first is to assist with the recovery process after a morning training session  (if relevant), and the second is to ensure that your muscle glycogen stores are topped up ready for an afternoon/evening session. It has a third role in that it will also help concentration and energy levels in the afternoon for those at college or in employment.

Your training demands and needs will influence the size and content of this meal. Those who have a hard training session in the late afternoon/evening should take care to ensure that they are adequately fuelled.

Try to avoid missing lunch - you will often find this leads to more unhealthy food choices/snacks later in the day.

Salad Bar - Salad is a good option to start your meal as it provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Energy content is low, but you can increase this by including bread, jacket potatoes, pasta or rice. Add slices of chicken, ham or beans, pulses and nuts to increase the protein content. Beware of salad dressings which can be high in fat.

Soups - Vegetable soups are another easy way of getting a variety of nutrients in, and can be a substantial energy provider which is sometimes easier to consume and welcoming in the winter months. Homemade soups can be easy to make and to suit an individual’s taste and needs. Again you can boost the energy by eating with wholegrain bread, or by adding pasta.

Pasta/rice - Pasta and rise dishes are a good source of carbohydrate and are an even better option if you can choose wholegrain. Combine with a protein source such as fish or chicken and a sauce for a flavor. Adding a variety of vegetables to your pasta meal is a quick and easy way to increase nutrient variety of your meal.

Jacket Potato - Jacket potatoes can provide a quick easy energy source, and will digest quickly avoiding leaving you feeling uncomfortable before your training session. Including a high protein source such as tuna or chicken or even baked beans will give you an all-round high quality meal.

Yoghurts and fruit are excellent choices for dessert, due to their nutritional value and low fat content. Although treat desserts are appealing, try to limit the intake of these at every meal and have a varied choice. Yoghurt is a good source of protein and good choices offer a good source of vitamins and low in fat and sugars. Combining with fruit will also add to the nutritional content of the meal.

Alongside the meal, ensure that at lunch and throughout the day you are taking fluids in to ensure hydration before a later training session.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Breakfast for athletes

There are many athletes who choose to train in the morning, before work, school or college; there are also sports that require training twice a day, one of these being in the morning. Some athletes will be able to consume a small amount of food in the morning before this session; others struggle to face anything until the training session is complete. Post training breakfast is an important way to ensure that adequate recovery is achieved and even if there is no morning training, a good breakfast is key to fuelling activities throughout the day. 

In terms of recovery there should be three aims:

Refuel - If training has taken place that morning or the night before, breakfast is vital to the recovery process, and helps to replace the muscle glycogen used during training.

Repair - During training, muscles are damaged.  It is important that you help your body repair these damaged muscles as soon as possible to aid recovery and prevent injury.

Adaptation - Training produces stimuli which cause your body to adapt so that it is able to cope with sessions better.  These adaptions, which include enhanced energy production and increased muscle size and strength, need energy to happen, and breakfast will help to fuel these after a morning training session.

What you can choose:

Cereals - Wholegrain cereals are a good choice as they provide quick and easy carbohydrate to help you refuel. Milk is a good source of protein, will help hydration, and is a good source of important vitamins and minerals like calcium. Many wholegrain and fortified cereal will also provide B vitamins and iron, both of which are important for energy breakdown.

Porridge - Porridge has Slow releasing energy, is high in carbohydrate and will keep you feeling full for longer. Milk will also add protein content and wholegrain oats will act as a good source of B vitamins. By adding a fruit compote, syrup or honey, a quick source of energy will be supplied which will help those who have had a hard morning training session.

Toast - Toast is another option for carbohydrates and toast from wholegrain bread will provide more nutritional value. If you wanted to add protein to toast you could choose a high protein spread such as peanut butter or serve with baked beans and or an egg (see below).

Baked Beans - Baked beans can be high in sugar, which can act as a source of fast carbohydrates which can be helpful following a hard training session.  Beans are a good protein source to go alongside toast.

Egg - Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein, and contain most of the essential vitamins (except vitamin C). It is particularly rich in B vitamins, which are important for energy release, and Vitamin D, which athletes are normally low on. Eggs also contain antioxidants for healing, growth and fighting infection, which can be important during heavy periods of training for athletes.

Fresh Fruit - Breakfast is a good opportunity to get a healthy fruit portion in, so make the most of the selection that is on offer. Combine with your cereal or add to your porridge to boost the energy content, or simply take away for a mid-morning snack.

Yoghurts -  Yoghurts can be a good option on their own or with the addition of fruit or muesli. 


Not only is it important to refuel following morning training, but it is also important to make sure that all your fluid losses during training are replaced. Even if no training has taken place that morning, there has been a sustained period of time while you have been asleep and not taken any fluid on board. Ensure you are hydrated before you start your day.

Smoothies -  Are a great option for those needing extra energy or for those who may struggle with breakfast in the morning. To read a previous blog on Smoothies please click here http://www.athletelifedevelopment.com/resourceblog.htm

Concentrated Fruit Juice - This is a good option to be included with your breakfast meal and can count towards your portions of fruit and vegetables. Fruit juice will provide a good source of vitamin C which will not only help immune function, but also help the absorption of iron from your breakfast. If the athlete has had a hard morning training session, where sweat rates are high, fruit juice may not be the best option for rehydration, but a good option alongside water.

Squash/Water - Fruit juice and water will help rehydration following a session and should be drunk throughout the day. Squash has better rehydrating properties than water alone due to the solutes contained.

Coffee/Tea - The caffeine may help with alertness, but it’s not the best choice for hydration so try to have squash or fruit juice alongside.  Also, if you depend on coffee to wake you up in the morning, you may need to consider getting more sleep.

Hot Chocolate - Milk is now one of the most promoted recovery drinks and a natural source to. Its combination of protein and carbohydrate help promote recovery from training and it also includes many vital vitamins and minerals which many commercial recovery drinks fail to include. By adding coco powder to milk and warming provides a drink option which promotes recovery.