Maintaining Elite Performance When Transitioning

BY DR. LOGAN KALETA:      Athletes are undeniably forced to transition very frequently throughout their careers. They may change coaches, play for different teams, relocate to different cities, excel up the ranks within their sport, and ultimately face retirement. This unavoidable change emphasizes the importance of adaptation. It is those athletes whom often find a way to adapt the quickest that often have the less adjustment issues and maintain their high level of play. However, those athletes that find it challenging to adapt, often see their performance diminished. Thus, there are a variety of factors and strategies to assist an athlete who is forced to transition.

The athlete who may change coaches or play for different teams may experience a cultural shift. This shift may be represented in the cultural values, expectations, or even force the athlete into performing additional roles he/she may not be accustomed to. This change can create discomfort; however, one’s previous experiences may support the individual’s growth and adaptation. If the athlete is able to use their previous experience(s) as a learning opportunity, then likely the athlete will be able to maintain their peak level of performance. Furthermore, those athletes that become more comfortable with the novel situation by focusing on what they can control, he/she will likely be able to maximize their abilities in their respective arenas.

Whether there is a new coaching regime, having to play for a new team, or transitioning to a higher skill level of play, an athlete’s ability to learn the language quicker will likely facilitate their previous high-level performance capability. Ultimately, it reduces the athlete’s internal thought processes that likely interfere or limit their successful performance. There is always room for growth for each athlete by using their thinking to help them. However, too much thought can disrupt their movements, and impede an athlete’s ability in a given moment. As many professionals promote an athlete’s ability to achieve flow, or a state in which one’s arousal level is at an ideal level for the athlete to be fully immersed in the activity, those individuals who have more internal thoughts causes their anxiety to increase which creates less than optimal results. Therefore, individuals that are able to adapt to the cultural shift by learning the new language quicker, will promote he/she to just play their game, and will likely experience better performance. Moreover, this reduced thinking also allows for enhanced attentional control for the athlete to focus on relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli in the environment.

Lastly, the change in environments can negatively impact any athlete or professional because it may disrupt their sense of normalcy. Their routine may change or they may be more uncomfortable, and still expected to perform at a high standard while navigating through the natural adjustment process. Therefore, individuals that typically take longer to adjust to their new environment may experience a negative impact on their performance because they are experiencing increased discomfort, and are unable to unwind or decompress from already existing stressors. Thus, it is recommended to resume or re-integrate structure, routine, and previously utilized healthy coping strategies that allow the athlete to relax. If the athlete is able to restore themselves off the field by engaging in healthier lifestyle behaviors (sleep hygiene, healthy eating, optimal hydration, physical exercise, and stress management), their performance on the field will likely be enhanced and maintained.

Logan Kaleta, PsyD, CIC
Sports & Rehabilitation Psychologist
Assistant Professor
Division of Rehabilitation Neuropsychology
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine
Emory University