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.

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