The 2018 Commonwealth Games has further reinforced the young age that some athletes are attending such high-profile events

  • At just 11-years-old Anna Hursey became the face of the games in Table Tennis.
  • Anish Bhanwala has become India’s youngest medallist as he earned a gold medal in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol.
  • The England Women’s artistic gymnastics teams average age was just 17 years with Taeja James (at 15) being the youngest English medallist at the Gold Coast.

Despite their young age these athletes will have been training for years and will have competed internationally on many occasions. These individuals will be training multiple times a day while balancing school and social lives. The key focus of this article will be to outline the (sport and non-sport) transitions that are experienced by young athletes with a focus on the balance of demands and resources.

Understanding Transitions

Transitions can have an impact on a person’s self-perceptions, motivation and moral development. Transition has been defined by Schlossberg (1981) as “an event or 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” (p. 5). In the model of human adaptation to transition, Schlossberg (Schlossberg, 1981, 2004) identifies three sets of factors that interact during a transition, namely the characteristics of the individual experiencing the transition, the perception of the transition, and the characteristics of the pre-and-post-transition environments

Transitions for young athletes

  • The Sport environment – Athletes may experience a clear increase in frequency, intensity and types of training, and matches or competitions of a higher level than they were used to before (e.g. The Commonwealth Games).
  • Psychological changes – These sport environment changes will require a change in motivation to participate and a stronger focus during training. They may also result in a change in the importance they put on their sport and how that becomes a bigger part of their identity.
  • School commitments – An increase in the sport environment will raise challenges for the completion of school work and may even impact on school attendance. This may further impact social connections in school as individuals may lose contact with friends.

The Athletic Career Transition Model (Stambulova 2003)

This model reveals that the process of the transitional challenge starts for athletes with the demands posed to them to progress in their development and which stimulates them to mobilise resources to find ways to cope.

  • Demands – Includes all factors that may interfere with the development of the athlete (e.g dual career, GCSE exams).
  • Resources – Includes all internal and external factors that may facilitate the coping process (e.g. parental support, effective use of competencies, financial support).

The balance between demands and resources and the effective use of resources will determine the extent to which athletes are able to cope with the transitional challenges. If effective the process of coping can lead to a successful transition.

It’s your journey

There is no one size fits all when it comes to supporting individuals through any transition. Some young athletes may take all transitions in their stride and find that the resources available to them far outweigh the demands of the experience. Others may find even small transitions or environmental changes to be challenging and require more support with resources to help them cope. Here are some points to remember:

  • Some transitions may be smooth processes, and some may be more challenging. Appreciate that each transition is unique and influenced by many factors which may have a negative or positive impact on your personal experience at that time.
  • Identify transitions in advance and list any demands that may arise because of them. (As a coach or a parent can you help your young athletes identify these demands?)
  • Ensure you have the resources you need to work through the identified demands. (As a coach or a parent can you help your young athletes identify resources?)

The young athletes at the Commonwealth Games will have experienced transitions despite their young age. Each of these experiences will have shaped who they are as an athlete at this stage but also who they are as a person. Facilitating an understanding of career transitions with young athletes and the appreciation of demands and resources will help them to appreciate what they have learnt when they face later life transitions (e.g. changing jobs, moving to a new house, retirement from sport).

“Develop the person alongside the performer. Facilitating the competence of the person across all aspects of his or her life by focusing on the nurturing of psychological skills that could be used to help the individual be successful beyond sport.”  Neil and Cropley, 2017 – Delivering Sport Psychology across Youth Sport Contexts