Moving from high school sports to becoming a college athlete is exciting. But with change comes new challenges and environments that can promote or inhibit success. Juggling academics, athletics, and a social life as a college athlete can be a recipe for burnout. To fight it, we asked the experts how to make the transition.
What happened to fun?
Presumably, we all started playing sports because we loved them. Sports are meant to be enjoyed, teach us how to work well with others, and build critical life skills like problem solving. So when did playing become something that causes us stress?
It becomes increasingly more challenging around age ten to parcel out your athletic identity from your individual identity as a whole, explains Paige Roberts, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and VIS Expert. She emphasizes the importance of creating separation from our athletic identity and suggests that we “find ways to get away from the sport. Get outside, spend time with family, build your life outside of sport.” Allowing ourselves the ability to develop our personality as more than just an athlete is imperative for fostering a healthy mindset.
To set ourselves up for success, she recommends asking yourself whether your sport is still making you happy.
Reflect on your “why”
When it comes to the college game, not only does the sport itself become more intense, but the environmental demands intensify as well. When we level up like this, especially when the transition to college sports involves a scholarship, motivation can shift from internal to external. A game that we once competed in because it brought us joy, is now paying for our tuition. “The further away your motivation is from your heart, from what you inherently enjoy, the more challenging it can be to show up and perform well,” says Anna Hennings, a sports psychologist and VIS Expert. Reflecting on the reasons why we started playing in the first place can help us stay engaged with our passion.
Take a break when you need it
At the end of the day, sports are supposed to make us happy. In order to bring the joy back into sport, sometimes it is necessary to step away. If taking a break isn’t an option, Roberts encourages her athletes to explore new positions and create new routines to revitalize their athletic experience.
In addition, Hennings offers her expert advice to celebrate success every step of the way. She emphasizes that even small wins are worth recognizing. She warns that “Without mentally banking these wins, you could be setting yourself to believe you don’t do anything right, that you haven’t come very far in your athletic career, which makes it so much harder to experience joy in doing the sport you love.” In order to avoid feeling this way, she advises that we acknowledge what we have been doing well before investigating what needs to be improved.
Ultimately, our athletic experiences will all be uniquely our own. The world of sport is a challenging one to navigate. However, by continuing to check in with ourselves, honoring our happiness, and exploring our lives outside of sport, it can be done. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s just a game!