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Dealing With Transition Like a Pro

Times of transition have long been held up as weak points in young athletes' careers. In this month's blog we are going to look at what that actually means, and what parents and athletes can do avoid the obvious pitfalls.

Transition simply refers to a time of change. This could involve a new club, coach or training group; a new school or college; a family upheaval such as divorce, separation or a family bereavement; an injury and subsequent rehab; or the move away from home, perhaps to university.

There are many reasons that transition periods can cause problems. Here are some obvious ones:-

  • Changing known routines can be unsettling.

  • By changing an athlete's routine, nothing comes naturally and they have to think ahead all the time – stressful.

  • Transition periods can be associated with personal stress – e.g. in case of family breakdown or bereavement.

  • Athletes may have to rebuild their support networks of friends, coaches and support staff.

  • Settling into a new lifestyle takes time and athletes often feel they are working against the clock.

  • Athletes can feel they have no-one to turn to because everything and everyone is new.

  • Athletes can be unsure of the expectations of a new coach.

  • If their whole environment has changed they have to re-learn every aspect of their lifestyle – nutrition, training, education, social-life etc.

Obviously different circumstances present different problems and there are certainly some things that can't be planned for. But where you have forewarning, there are a few simple things you can implement. One of the most obvious is university, so we are going to look at how you can make that transition as easy as possible.

Firstly, if their sport is very important to them, make sure they have selected their university based on the course AND the sport provision. Contact the sports club well in advance and see if your young athlete can visit the club, join in with training and/or meet some other young athletes. Good university sports clubs will often run their own open days which may tie in with the full university academic open days. My advice would be to contact the chief coach directly.

As a coach, I was well aware that the first year of university was a shaky period for a young athlete, and a time when many talented young people drop out of their sport. Ask yourself as a parent whether you are preparing them early for this complete life change. Can they cook? Can they wash their own clothes? Can they clean a bathroom or kitchen? Can they budget effectively? Can they shop cheaply and still eat nutritiously? If the answer is no – you best get started.

  • Try to schedule one meal a week that is completely prepared by your athlete. This may involve a bit of hand holding and a chaotic kitchen at first, but they will get the hang of it.

  • Get them to bake a batch of their favourite recovery flapjack and freeze it – preparing batches of food ahead is a great habit to get into.

  • Expect them to do at least one load of washing a week on their own.

  • Give them a bathroom or a downstairs loo that is their responsibility to keep clean. Again, this may require initial instruction to get them going, but having seen the bathrooms of some of the students I coached, I'm surprised they got out of there alive, and it certainly explained the repeated illnesses that some suffered.

  • Send them out with a set amount of money to do the shopping for the weekend, show them how to find the bargains and shop where prices are good.

Some parents of talented athletes feel they have to do all this for them to allow adequate training and recovery time, but you will be doing them a disservice in the long run if they are not developing independence skills. University has enough temptations to lead them off the straight and narrow anyway – alcohol, late nights and partying, without the added problem of not being able to look after themselves effectively.

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