ATS - Athlete Transition Services | Athletes – Aware Of Change But Clueless About Transition
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Athletes – Aware Of Change But Clueless About Transition

Athletes – Aware Of Change But Clueless About Transition

by Jonathan T. Orr

Like many athletes, I knew one day there would be a change in my life in which I would no longer play football. However, like many athletes, I was completely oblivious to the fact that this change would be accompanied by a transition-one I was grossly unprepared for. Now, you may be asking yourself what’s the difference in between change and transition. Let me explain, a change is what happens to you. It is an external difference in your situation or circumstance. Usually, it is sudden. Although you may know the change is coming for a while, the moment or event that solidifies the change is quick.

A transition, on the other hand, is what happens to you internally as a product of a change you are faced with. Unlike a change, a transition takes time because it is the actual process that you go through. Transitional Management expert, William Bridges, stated that “Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life.” (Bridges, 2004).

A good example of a change vs. transition is when Hillary, my 6th grade girlfriend, broke up with me. We were together for nearly a month (which by the way constitutes as a long-term relationship in middle school). Although the last week of our relationship consisted of multiple red flags-such as her avoiding me at lunch, giving me the silent treatment at recess, putting lines through my name where she had previously hearts, and there being rumors about her liking the new boy-we were still together. Until one cold and rainy day, she approached me on the playground, accompanied by some of our friends (who by the way I am still angry with for not giving me a heads up) to tell me that it was officially over. That moment changed everything. Immediately, I no longer had a girlfriend, I was no longer someone’s boyfriend. I was a single man again.

The change of no longer being in a relationship with Hillary was then followed by the process of transition. I had to deal with the anxiety of answering the “what happened?” questions. I worried about if I would ever find such happiness again, I wrestled with the idea of not going with her to the Valentine’s dance, and God forbid I see her dancing with Ryan to our song, Boyz II Men’s End of the Road. See, I was faced with a change when Hillary broke up with me. I then navigated through the transition process because of the impact that change had on my thoughts and emotions.

William Bridges also suggests that for us to have a successful transition, we must properly navigate through three stages of the transition process. These stages are classified as the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. The ending is the initial stage of transition when we first encounter the change. This stage is frequently accompanied with resistance and emotional turmoil, because we must let go of something that we are familiar and comfortable with. In this stage, you must accept the fact that your career has come to an end before you can begin to embrace your new life. Or in the case of my 6th grade break up, I had to come to terms with the fact that it was over, and accept the fact that Hillary and I were not meant to be.

The second stage of the transitional process is the neutral zone, which is the link between the old and new. You might still be somewhat attached to the old while at the same time learning to adapt to your new way of life. This can be an uncomfortable time when you experience confusion, resentment, uncertainty, and become impatient. It can be a state of limbo, where it is hard to find something to hold onto. The old way no longer works, yet the new way does not feel right either. You must use the neutral zone as an opportunity to reflect, explore, strategize, and focus on the future. Initially, after my breakup with Hillary I was upset and somewhat confused as to what happened and why. I soon realized that living in the past was holding me hostage and could cause me to miss out on future opportunities for love in middle school. So, I shifted my focus from the past into future possibilities.

After you successfully matriculate through the first 2 phases of the transitional process, you then arrive at the new beginning. The new beginning is a place of acceptance, hope, and comfort. In this place, you have learned to let go of the old and are now embracing the new. You have developed a level of comfort with the new changes in your life. Eventually, I arrived at a new beginning after my 6th grade breakup. Although I did not have another girlfriend that school year, I became comfortable with being a bachelor and even enjoyed it. Sure, having a girlfriend was nice. But I learned that being single had its perks too-like not having to share my Hot Cheetos and being able to sit by whomever I wanted to on the bus.

As I mentioned earlier, I knew one day I would no longer play football, the change. But since I was clueless about the transition that would happen because of that change, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared. In fact, I did not even realize I was dealing with a transition process until years later. Consequently, I did not properly come to terms with the ending and had no sense of direction during the neutral zone, therefore delaying my arrival to my new beginning.

It is crucial to be aware of the transition process that accompanies no longer playing. Simply being aware of it significantly increases the likelihood that you will have a successful and healthy transition. Being aware allows you to prepare accordingly. It’s no different than preparing for competition in sports. In most cases, you received some variation of a scouting report about upcoming opponents. This report included information about your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, etc. By having this information, you became aware of what to expect and could prepare yourself to be successful during competitions. Likewise, when you are aware of the transition process then you can prepare a game plan that will position you for success.

*this post is an excerpt from Jonathan Orr’s forthcoming book titled Game Over, Life’s Not.

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