Assisting youth and professional athletes outside of the sporting environment has been a challenge for many years. There has not been an accepted specific name for the industry or a blueprint for curriculum design. We are missing guidelines for practical applications focused on helping the youth and professional athletes in their personal, social and professional development. These three ingredients are the pillars of personal development and when administered correctly produce a fruitful and sustainable athlete.
Mental health has become an everyday term for ordinary people, which is why I focused on becoming a mental health professional. Over the course of an athletic career, I quickly learned mental health is personal development for athletes. But few athletes are receiving personal development and pushed in the direction of mental health. Due to an athlete’s lifestyle, consistent pressure to perform and behavioral expectations away from sports eliminates athletes from the category of ordinary people. Neglecting the need for personal development and replacing it with common mental health principles can explain why we are witnessing so many athletes move from mental health to mental illness.
Personal development for athletes is currently called different things throughout the global sporting community. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, British University and College Sports, National Football League, National Basketball Association and Premier League all have different names for professionals working with athletes in the area of personal development. The link connecting the above helping professionals together is the job they are all attempting to accomplish. These teams and organizations seek to take a personal approach to a player and develop that player. Resulting in Personal Player Development (PPD).
The biggest challenge for helping professionals working in the PPD industry is deep rooted in accepting the need to be trained in the PPD field. A Sports Psychologist is highly trained in delivering maximum performance of athletes. Athletic trainers are also highly trained in keeping athletes fit and key on recovery maintenance. But what type of PPD training do Welfare Officers, (UK) or Life Skills professionals (USA) receive? Most often the qualifications of these helping professionals don’t match the job duties as they pertain to the personal, social and professional development of the athlete.
The lack of qualified professionals working with athletes can be blamed on 1) the lack of curriculum focused on PPD of the athlete and 2) the investment and the return on investment, is in its infancy stage. Currently very few dare to make the leap to fully embracing PPD. More importantly, they are not sure of the value a PPD professional brings to an organization or an athlete. A PPD professional works with athletes on the daily personal, social and professional issues athletes encounter.
The backbone to PPD is a unique understanding of athletic identity for this generation. Athletic Identity for this generation of athletes involves more than identifying as an athlete or retiring from the sport. It’s an everyday phenomenon athletes experience. Athletes require this daily phenomenon to be explored and maximized to achieve ultimate success in and outside of the sporting environment. Being an athlete is not what we do its who we are because of our unique daily belief system.
Why is PPD so important to all of us? To universities or professional organizations, real PPD provides significant brand protection. For the coach, PPD assists in the overall performance of an athlete. For the parent, PPD is the essence of developing an athletically gifted child to become a fully functioning successful adult. The helping professional becomes prepared with actually developing an athlete for long term success. PPD allows athletes to develop a skill set in which they are infrequently introduced. Ultimately, it will prove valuable during and after their sporting experience. It is of particular importance to understand athletic identity, decision-making, and coping skills as athlete’s experience a multi-level platform of transitions which include the post-athletic phase of their lives.