I love March Madness. It’s hard not to. But I also hate March Madness, on the flip side of every upset and triumph is disappointment and heart break. And I feel especially for the athletes who have just played their last game. During March Madness, and really all of college sports, we’re often drawn to the stories of the athletes that will become future professionals, but the reality is that roughly 2% of NCAA athletes will go on to have professional careers.
In this week’s 3 Points I’ll discuss athletic career transitions, and why not planning for them may be hurting your athletes more than you think.
1. There has been a significant amount of research conducted on collegiate athletes transitioning out of sport. Findings have shown that the transition out of sport, particularly due to the loss of their athletic identity, can be accompanied with confusion, loneliness, grief, anxiety and depression and even suicide ideation.
Some Good News: Studies on professional athletes found clear evidence of the effectiveness of participating in career transition intervention programs that focused on diversifying athletic identity and initiating the grief process. The research found that athletes that participated in those programs increased their resilience and diminished their susceptibility to mental health symptoms while transitioning into athletic retirement.
Some Bad News: Research has continued to find that collegiate athletes did not feel they had institutional support, guidance, or resources upon or beyond graduation.
2. I should point out that these aren’t new or secret findings. We’ve long known that career transition planning is one of the best predictors of successful career transitions of out sport. So what exactly is sport career transition planning and why aren’t athletes engaging in more of it?
Put simply, career transition planning or preretirement planning offers career and educational support to athletes during their playing careers to help them plan for their inevitable transition out of sport. And for why more athletes aren’t engaging in it?
“The resistance has been attributed to the perception that engagement in career transition intervention programs while still competing could be a distraction from their sport performance.” - David Lavallee
I was certainly guilty of this. One of my biggest regrets looking back on my college career was that I did not once visit the career-development center and balked at any idea of an internship. And worse, it was a point of pride for me. I was too focused on basketball to worry about life after. At least that’s what I told myself. Little did I know….
3. Engagement in Sport Career Transition Planning Enhances Performance(!!!)
A study by David Lavallee sought to examine the impact that engaging in career transition planning interventions have on athletic performance. The study examined over 632 National Rugby League (NRL) players over the course of 3 seasons. The performance indicators used for the study were team selections (playing time), how long the player was contracted for with their club, and the length of their overall NRL career. They considered engagement in career transition planning by measuring career decidedness (how sure the athlete knew what they wanted to do following retirement) and their level of engagement in career planning.
They found that greater engagement in sport career transition planning positively predicted team selections, club tenure and career tenure. So why would engaging in career transition planning lead to improved performance indicators? The researchers theorized that engaging in the planning led to less cognitive dissonance, allowing athletes more time to fully focus on sport performance.
So, an important takeaway for athletes, coaches and administrators: engagement in sport career transition planning has positive benefits on the athlete’s transition to retirement and their playing career. Seems like a no brainer.
Disclaimer that I didn't read the research in the "Some Bad News" bit, but I wonder how much of the lack of support and guidance is perception vs reality. Athletes probably have more structure built into their day to day schedule with coaches, trainers, teammates, etc than the average non-athlete. So are career centers actually giving them less time or the same amount of time that is then perceived by the athletes as less? Next question would be if providing additional resources to help athletes transition out of sports is necessary / justified?