Everything within our lives is subject to change; whether it be our looks, where we live, or our friendship circle. In sport, as an athlete develops and progresses it is likely that they are going to experience changes, such as who they are being coached by, their teams, or in some cases, the country they train in. Change can be defined as ‘an act or process through which something becomes different’. Within sport, athletes go through many changes and ‘transitional periods’; “an event or a non-event which results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and, thus, requires a corresponding change in one’s behaviour and relationships” (Schlossberg, 1981).

For athletes wishing to pursue sport at an elite level, dealing with and being flexible to change is crucial. Wylleman and Lavallee (2004) propose four transitional phases an athlete experiences throughout their life, in regards to:

1)      Athletic career (e.g., initiation into a sport, injury, retirement).

2)      Psychological development (e.g., moving from adolescence into adulthood, recreational play to competition).

3)      Social development (e.g., adapting to a new coach, new teammates).

4)      Educative and professional development (e.g., moving from novice to professional, college to university).

Success through each transition is undermined by individual differences, in relation to how an individual views change and copes with the problems that arise. For instance, one player may struggle playing under a new coach, whereas another may thrive under the experience. These individuals who find change beneficial tend to be optimistic and see change as a new challenge and opportunity to achieve. On the other hand, those who are pessimistic towards change, or feel cautious towards change, may struggle to adapt through each transition. Poor awareness and lack of ability to cope and adapt may result in feelings of anxiety and discomfort (Alfermann and Stambulova, 2007. This supports the famous words of Arnold Bennet, who once said that “any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts”.  There are thought to be five stages we go through when facing a change, and as we go through these stages it is thought that we progressively desensitized from the change (Zutphen, 2008). The five stages consist of:

1)      Denial: the initial fight against the new proposal of change.

2)      Anger: the feeling of insecurity and frustration against the change.

3)      Dejection: the depressed state an individual feels when recognising that a change is going to occur.

4)      Acceptance: knowing that change is going to happen and preparing for it.

5)      Learning: reflecting on the idea that change may be beneficial on performance.

Many individuals fear change and the unknowingness of the future. This fear stimulates pessimistic beliefs about the outcome change brings about, due to familiarity bias about the security of the presences (Cao, Han, Hirshleifer and Zhang, 2011). In regards to sport, an example of this fear of change could be moving to a different team. Insecurity arises from this change, which can stimulate anger and frustration, which can ultimately be detrimental in an athlete’s performance, in regards to consciously forcing performance, overtraining and thus causing injuries. On the other hand, accepting change and recognising that change can be beneficial can result in a positive transition and overall boost in self-confidence. An example of this is being promoted within rooster of a team; going from bench warmer to starting line-up.

To conclude, change is natural occurrence in life which everyone experiences, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Athletes may experience many changes throughout their careers, whether planned, such as a change of club, or unplanned, such as becoming injured. The way in which an athlete responds to changes and transitional periods throughout their career is very much undermined by individual differences, such as their personality. With this in mind, coaches should be aware that every athlete may respond differently to change, meaning their approach should be individually adapted.

ReferencesShow all

Alfermann, D., & Stambulova, N. (2007). Career transitions and career termination. Handbook of Sport Psychology, Third Edition, 712-733.

Cao, H. H., Han, B., Hirshleifer, D., & Zhang, H. H. (2011). Fear of the Unknown: Familiarity and Economic Decisions*. Review of Finance, 15(1), 173-206.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1981). Major contributions. Counseling Psychologist, 9(2), 2-15.

Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transitions in sport: European perspectives. Psychology of sport and exercise, 5(1), 7-20.

Zutphen, G. (2008). It starts with one: changing individuals changes organisations. Available: http://knowledge.insead.edu/operations-management/changing-individuals-changes-organisations-2086. Last accessed 20th May 2014.