Over the last few weeks I have seen quite a few athletes who are leaving for college for their freshman year. Some are going to schools close to home here in Texas. Others are heading off to schools a long way from home in The Midwest, New England and the West Coast.
I am grateful to have been able to spend time with these athletes before they left. We spent our time together talking about their sadness around leaving home, family, and friends, their joy about starting a new phase of their lives, and anxiety about being on their own and trying to make their college team.
There are so many transitions going on with these kids. Their lives as sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and athletes are changing profoundly.
I decided to re-post the article that follows because this is such an important time not just for athletes leaving home, but for any athlete, their family members, and friends. I feel that this is a very valuable and necessary topic.
The Fall Season: Transition Time For Athletes
Fall is a particularly busy time for me in my work with athletes. Football, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, and many other sports start up and with this start up comes the stress and pressure of performing at higher levels. Athletes move up to higher levels of competition with each new season. Expectations of coaches, parents, and athletes are higher. The game moves faster, the ball is hit harder, tackles are more intense, athletes are bigger, quicker, and stronger, and required skills are more difficult to obtain.
Making these physical transitions in sports is difficult enough but when you add the mental and emotional transitions that are required it can be overwhelming for some.
Making the transition from junior high to high school, JV to varsity, high school to college, level 9 to level 10, 16 U to 18 U, or college to professional can be intense and stressful.
Increased stress and pressure from attending a new school, making new friends, balancing social life with sports, tougher academic requirements, leaving home and managing your own schedule, finances, and social life, or managing the complicated life of a professional athlete make it easy to see why so many athletes struggle during this time of transition.
The psychological warning signs of this struggle can be increased anxiety, moodiness, irritability, poor grades, withdrawal or isolation, depression, frustration, and even experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Physical symptoms can be an inability to perform skills that they have mastered in the past, poor overall performance, trying too hard to “get it right”, trying to please coaches, parents, or scouts, “choking”, or struggling with what used to be easy and fun.
These warning signs or symptoms are cries for help. The athlete is saying “HELP! I am struggling and I don’t have the tools to make it through this difficult transition”.
Many athletes have to face the embarrassment of not performing up to the expected standards that they and others have of them. It can be humiliating to go out practice after practice, game after game and struggle. What was once fun and a source of confidence is now eroding confidence and creating self doubt.
Helping athletes prepare for these times of stress and self doubt and teaching them the life skills necessary to make a healthy transition is critical.
In addition to teaching valuable life skills, I use “the theory of the bigger box” to help athletes during these difficult times.
Remember when you or your kids were young and you had to face a transition like moving from elementary to junior high, or junior high to high school? You had left behind a very safe and familiar environment. You new your way around the classroom and campus, you knew the teachers, schedules, and required routines. You were familiar with this “box”. You knew where the top and sides of the box were, and the shape of the box. But on some level you were ready to move on to a bigger box. You were pushing up against the sides and ceiling of that box. You had grown so much that it was uncomfortable and your were ready for a bigger challenge.
The bigger challenge, moving up a grade, playing on a more talented team, moving up a level, requires leaving behind the familiar “box” and stepping into a “bigger box”. You have to deal with the overwhelm of not knowing your way around the box. You have to learn where the sides and top of the box are all over again. There will always be an initial feeling of anxiousness, overwhelm, even shock. It is normal. And as you acquire the tools and skills to make the adjustment to a bigger box things begin to calm down. Confidence is restored and performance on all levels of life returns to a high level again.
Learning how to communicate effectively, set healthy boundaries, say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, time management, getting adequate sleep, eating well, balancing social life with school and sports requirements, and learning how to “recharge” your mental and emotional reservoir are important tools that will help make these times of transition easier.
Life will continue to hand us bigger and bigger “boxes” to transition into. Graduation, getting a first job, getting married, and having kids are all “bigger box” events. If you start learning important transitions tools early on it makes it easier to recognize, adapt, and grow in response to these challenges.
I have worked with many athletes who have gone off to college or tried to make it in professional sports and have come back home because they did not have the tools required to make these difficult transitions. Coming back is never an easy transition and many struggle profoundly. They are confused and lack direction.
Do your young athletes a favor and provide them the resources they will need to acquire the life skills to help them adjust and thrive.
It helps them learn how to avoid pain and suffering and build character and self confidence. Traits that will take them far in life and in sports.