Players often consider changes in their location, such as entering a development program and leaving home at a young age, as essential moments in their lives . These changes are not necessarily traumatic or hinder the development of players. Players can benefit from these so-called critical life events or career transitions, but that is dependent on the individual and the coping strategies used. Career transitions provide opportunities for personal growth and development. Overcoming obstacles and adapting to new situations can enhance a player’s confidence, patience, independence, responsibility and competitiveness, ultimately improving their performance on court. However, career transitions also come with specific challenges players must manage. They have to meet new academic requirements, face the challenges of living away from home, create new relationships, and manage their time and energy . When players join a development program, they have to adjust to demanding practice and competition schedules and new teammates and coaches.
There are several career transition frameworks that describe the players’ adaptive route from preparation to enter a development program, through initial adjustment to the development program culture, effective adaptation at the development program and eventually to thriving through successful (international) performances and personal growth [3,4]. Similar in these frameworks is players’ ‘pre-event’ strategy to use various sources of information about the new setting, sport culture or life situation to create related physical and psychological readiness. Entering a development program, players need to get to know other people, model their behavior to understand the setting/culture and develop new routines to fit and acquire a sense of belonging. The transition event (e.g. entering a development program and moving to Amsterdam) can be rather short in time but the transition as a whole might last up to two-three years .
Two perspectives in career transition interventions exist helping athletes to prepare for and cope with career transitions . The preventive/supportive perspective includes interventions aimed at enhancing athletes’ awareness about forthcoming/current transition demands and aiding timely development of resources for effective coping. These interventions (e.g. career planning intervention, life development interventions/life skills training) may assist players’ readiness for a career transition or support during the transition process. The other perspective, the crisis/negative consequences coping perspective, covers interventions assisting players to analyze their crisis/traumatic situations and to find the best available ways to cope. An example is a crisis-coping educational intervention helping players to analyze their situation, generate alternatives in coping, making an action plan, and increase their self-efficacy to cope with the crisis.
General recommendations for successful transitions
Coaches and other staff members in elite development programs can help players to cope with career transitions in various ways . Although the following recommendations were initially designed for players transitioning to and thriving at an Olympic Training Center, they might also be valuable for youth players entering an elite development program.
- Enhance the initial experience for new players by providing information about the program and facilities, by facilitating meetings for new players to get to know others in the development program, and to make current players know whenever there are new players who enter the development program;
- Identify major challenges and barriers that the incoming players tend to experience (e.g. through surveys, focus groups and feedback conferences with players and staff);
- Maintain existing and, if needed, develop new resources that have demonstrated a potential to effectively assist the players in successfully addressing these challenges and barriers (e.g. time management workshops aiming at sport–life balance, educational and self-growth programs/activities);
- Develop orientation workshops/materials (structured or conversational in-person meetings, brochures, website information) and train the staff in assisting players in developing appropriate coping skills and strategies (sport psychologists will play an important role in success of these programs [e.g. information and skill building in the areas of impacting attitudes and mindsets]);
- Establish a monitoring system that evaluates the transition process to screen for early issues (e.g. repeated player check-ins);
- Facilitate community engagement programs whereby players can become more involved in their surroundings, such as establishing partnerships between development programs and local, community resources outside the program; and
- Utilize social modeling to enhance early success with the transition via a mentorship program, such that successfully transitioned players who demonstrate an interest in mentoring new players can act as an advisor and/or a mentor.
Moving from club to club
Players also experience transitions by moving from club to club. A study on the problematic experiences during these transitions in professional basketball players revealed seven components in relation to coaching (e.g., obeying orders, reduced play time), three components with teammates (e.g., respect), two components with the club (e.g., lack of support), and three components with family/friends (e.g., geographical constraints) . To overcome these experiences, players described seven adaptability skills: self-discipline, goal setting, motivation/confidence, self-organization, interpersonal skills (communication and interaction with people at the club (i.e., coaches, teammates, management staff), positive thinking, and autonomy. Coaches and other staff members can help players to develop these so-called adaptability skills through psycho-social training. Psycho-social training can be delivered through workshops, individual consultations, group sessions, or integrated within regular training programs.
Mental health and performance
A positive mental health can contribute to sports performance, especially in the long term . However, a positive mental health is not a prerequisite for achieving top performance. Some players are able to perform excellent despite facing mental problems or disorders. Career transitions can impact mental health, but whether that is more positive or negative depends on the individual and their specific coping skills.
- John JM, Gropper H, Thiel A. The role of critical life events in the talent development pathways of athletes and musicians: A systematic review. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2019;45:101565.
- Stambulova NB, Ryba TV, Henriksen K. Career development and transitions of athletes: The international society of sport psychology position stand revisited. Int J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2021;19(4):524-550.
- Diehl R, Poczwardowski A, Stambulova N, O’Neil A, Haberl P. Transitioning to and thriving at the Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs: Phases of an adaptive transition. Sport Soc. 2020;23(4):678-696.
- Wylleman P, Lavallee D. A developmental perspective on transitions faced by athletes. Developmental sport and exercise psychology: A lifespan perspective, 2004;507-527.
- Stambulova N, Wylleman P. Athletes’ career development and transitions. Routledge Companion Sport Exerc Psychol. 2014;629–644.
- Owiti S, Hauw D. The Problematic Experience of Players’ Mutations Between Clubs: Discovering the Social Adaptability Skills Required. Front Sports Act Living. 2021;3:591438.
- Henriksen K, Schinke R, Moesch K, et al. Consensus statement on improving the mental health of high performance athletes. Int J Sport Exerc Psychol 2020;18(5):553-560.