How athletes can make a smooth transition to the next level of competition

When transitioning to the next level, it is important to understand that the road may be rocky. Focus on what you can control.

Most athletes dream of playing at the next level, but transitioning from high school to collegiate athletics or collegiate to professional athletics comes with increased expectations and higher stakes. A shift in motivational climate, where winning becomes a business, can increase perceived pressure. A disconnect between the role that we prefer to play on a team and the actual role we are being asked to play can lead to a decrease in enjoyment and satisfaction. A move from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond can cause us to question our identity.

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Transition Like a Pro

When transitioning to the next level, it is important to understand that the road may be rocky. But by focusing on what we can control, we increase our ability to transition successfully. Try these tips:

  • The military uses the acronym VUCA — Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This acronym can be applied to the transition from one level of competition to the next. The military also uses the phrase “embrace the suck.” If a soldier goes into a situation and expects it to be easy, he or she may be in for a big surprise, but if a soldier goes into a situation expecting it to be VUCA, he or she will have a greater chance of success. The same can be said for transitioning to the next level in sport. Expect it to be difficult, prepare for it to be difficult, and it likely will not be as difficult as you expected.
  • Increase your resources. With higher stakes and expectations, the next level of sport may come with greater perceived pressure. But if you reframe your understanding of pressure, your transition will be smoother. Keep in mind that pressure occurs when we perceive the demands of a situation to outweigh the resources we have to meet the demands. If we focus on increasing the resources we have and decreasing the perceived demands, the pressure will be much easier to navigate. One way to increase your resources is to learn how to manage your time and prioritize; if you have never learned how to do this, sit down with a parent, teacher, coach or colleague and ask him or her about managing time and prioritizing.
  • Pressure is a privilege. Billie Jean King is a former world No. 1 professional tennis player and pioneer of American professional women’s tennis. During her career, she won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles titles, 16 doubles titles and 11 mixed doubles titles. She trained herself to believe that pressure is a privilege, and it is only felt by those who’ve earned it. If you feel pressure, it’s only because you are good enough to be in a situation with increased demands. Increased expectations are an illustration of the confidence that others have in your ability to perform. If you can wrap your brain around that, you’ll find pressure truly is a privilege and not something negative.

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