Strategic Transition

Athletes are always in transition. Be prepared.


We think of transitions as times we made big changes- Moving away from home, leaving a team and starting with a new one, graduating from school, job restructuring, and retirement.  But in reality, we are always making transitions, some are big, some are small.  The small ones prepare us for the big ones.  The process can be the same.  And if you keep the process the same, then the big, sometimes intimidating, transitions, can be managed more effectively.  To the point where transition isn’t a negative experience, but a very positive experience.

In my experience in working in ‘Transition’, with executives and athletes,  I have found the people that made smooth transitions are the ones that were prepared and had a plan or strategy.  Moreover, they were the ones that used their previous situation as leverage or a launching pad into their new pursuit.  They are the ones that embraced transition and subsequently thrived.  

In Athlete Development, the subject of ‘Transition’ is a sensitive subject.  A subject that many want to avoid talking about because it has overwhelmingly negative connotations.  Typically, when discussed, it is communicated in a way to scare athletes into action.

At Game Change, we look at transition much differently. It is an opportunity.  Particularly if the athlete is prepared and has been advised on how to leverage his or her experience in sports to launch a new and exciting phase in their life.  

Life is transitional and highly relational.
— Rich Bartel, Retired NFL Quarterback.

Athletes, naturally learn how to deal with transition.  Many of these transitions are the result of positive developments - joining a new team when asked to move up a level, being asked to play a new position, different role on a team and playing different sports.  Much like a player wanting to advance to the highest levels of sport, transitions are easier when it is part of the plan and viewed as a positive development.  A ‘good transition’ is typically something you wanted and worked towards.  It was part of the strategy.  

The problem that we are seeing, and it starts to form at the early ages, is when the transition is not part of the ‘optimistic’ plan.   To make matters worse, young athletes are shielded from perceived negative transitions.  Parents protect their young athletes from disappointment, from getting cut by a team, or constantly intervening to keep their child on a team or avoid adversity in general.  

Parents prevent perceived ‘negative’ transitions from occuring, because they are not a part of the ‘strategy’. But these types of transitions are when you learn how important it is to be prepared and to handle ‘negative’ transition.  Resilience can only be built on the back of adversity and parents need to allow young athletes to experience adversity and develop resilience skill sets. 

For elite athletes (collegiate, professional), when transition comes unexpectedly - being released, traded, or forced to retire - the athlete has always been aware of this potential outcome but simply don’t prepare for it. And when it happens, it can be shocking and emotionally difficult.  

Elite athletes have gone through many transitions to get to the top. We need to celebrate transitions and look forward to them.  However, we need to encourage our athletes to be smarter, to be prepared and to have a well thought out strategy.  The transition is inevitable and it is always looming.  

Knowing yourself is critical.  Develop a broad skill set and broaden your experiences.  Don’t put yourself in a narrow state of mind and try to avoid small transitions (and for the parents out there, let your kids get cut and don’t shield them from it), some that are sometimes hard, put yourself out there, but have a strategy.
And the older an athlete gets, and the higher the level they are involved at, the transitions become larger.  But the process is still the same.  Have a plan.  Leverage your platform.  Explore beyond your sport.  Recognize and realize the opportunities that surround you based on your sport.   

For professional athletes, it is much of the same. Leverage your current role and use it as a launching pad for the next phase. At Game Change we are discovering and witnessing, athlete transition can be an overwhelming success story - at any age.  Knowing how to leverage the incredible experience of playing sports is a gift.  A massive opportunity for athletes to find something, in some cases, even better than their playing career.  

Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.
John Hierlihy