I must have missed the memo about the mental transition that goes along with leaving your sport. Is it just me that skipped the exit interview or the seminar that said... "You may experience a sense of loss after your playing days are over, here is what you can do to better cope with this?" No, I didn't miss the memo and I didn't miss the seminar because I DIDN'T exist.
I was taking a leisurely stroll around one of the college here in Nashville and I spoke with 4 athletes and 1 coach. I asked the athletes if the athletic department had any programs or services to handle things like mental health or transitioning from competitive play to after competitive play (I left this vague because each individual's path is different after the game). 3 out of 4 said there maaaaay be something, but they didn't know what it is or how to access it. The 4th one said his family had connections and he didn't need to worry about "any of that." The coach said this... "I tell all my players they need to have a plan B."
Sounds like good advice doesn't it? Let's remember that roughly 98% of college athletes go on to start their post collegiate athlete life. You are TOLD that the skills and qualities learned through sport will be useful throughout life, buuuuuuuut that's about as deep as it goes. In an article published by Helix Magazine ( a publication by Science in Society at Northwestern University) sports psychologist Caroline Silby says this about dealing with transition "Unfortunately, we don't really talk about it very much or prepare athletes for it." ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! You don't prepare athletes for it? Oh, right sports is about winning games that's right.
There are very few universities that have mental health services specifically for athletes through the athletic department. As of right now, they send them to the campus-wide counseling and psychiatric services office.
Can you see how this is a problem? I wrote about how some people are prepared and feel good about their future while others move on out of necessity without giving much thought to who they are apart from the game. If you fall into the latter category it's not too late to reclaim your identity, explore new and exciting interests, and experience that same rush you did as a player.
S. J. Petipas and Danish outlined 5 factors for effective skill transfer
understanding how one's skills maybe valuable in other areas
understanding that one's skills may be useful in contexts other than sport
believing that one's skills are valuable
developing a new identity
developing appropriate social support
I'm going to unpack the first three...
In comes SELF-EFFICACY!! Self-efficacy means having belief in your ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.
Basically, it's a fancy word for believing you can do something. When I looked at the first three factors I thought hmmm, no wonder so many people leave sports and just start applying for anything they can get. They don't believe they have the skills for certain things! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't just come out and be the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time for those that don't get the reference) but believing you can do something can play a major role in how you approach goals, tasks, and challenges.
People with low self-efficacy
fear circumstances where they believe the situation will exceed their coping skills
may not attempt to transfer skills if they aren't certain of their abilities
People with high self-efficacy
are more willing to transfer skills
are more likely to try something if they think they can manage the demands
This isn't a "you have it or you don't thing" either. You can work through issues to expand your identity and build confidence.
...How am I supposed to expand my identity...
...What if my sports career ended years ago...
...What if I'm a graduating senior...
No matter how far removed or if you are in the thick of it you can begin to look at yourself differently. You can compete at a high level and still have a deep knowing of your core beliefs. You can look at your future with an action plan.
I've put together an exercise called the "Gym bag framework". This exercise is meant to inspire and activate your creativity and interests so you can be open to explore a wide range of opportunities that match your core meaning about yourself. Also, by identifying and internalizing your core meaning, you will be able to solve future problems that come up with clarity.
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