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sports psychology


Part 5: Competitive Life

At this stage we transition from the teenage years to adulthood.  During the teenage years, emphasis was on learning to specialize in different areas of life and developing a self-identity as a person.  It is the last stage of fundamental development where commitment and dedication to mastery are learned.  If an athlete is able to successfully navigate the teenage years, it will make their transition into adulthood and the competitive environment easier to manage.

4) Young Adulthood: Competition Ready (ages 20+)

Erikson Stage 6 (Intimacy versus Isolation, 20’s to late 30’s); LTAD Stage 6 (Train to Win, girls age 18+/boys age 19+)

Erikson Stage 6 (Intimacy versus Isolation, 20’s to late 30’s) focus is on intimacy/love in relationships.  Erikson believed that you are not developmentally progressing unless you are capable of intimacy.  If you were able to develop in

Erikson’s Stage 5 (Identity versus Role-Confusion, age 12-18) then you will be able to form relationships with others who have also achieved a sense of identity.  If you are not able to resolve this conflict successfully, then you will struggle to have relationships that involve sharing, feel closeness, and/or committing to another person.

LTAD Stage 6 (Train to Win, girls age 18+/boys age 19), this athlete is a full-time competitor who is seeking to win national and international events and dedicating herself/himself to the pursuit of excellence and success (i.e., trophies, medals, and podiums).  Athletes at this level are competing professionally or at the highest level their sport allows.  At this point, technical skills, tactical education, and physical growth should be complete, or very close, and it’s all about the results. 

Also of note, at this stage there is no “I” in “team.”  Athletes competing in individual and team sports have a support network that includes coaches, physicians, nutritionists, great parents, and a sport psychologist who are working with them on a daily basis.   It’s an athlete’s personal team that is helping to keep them healthy, motivated, focused, and produce consistent peak performance.

Original Passion

Athletes at the elite level can run the risk of dedicating too much of their time and energy toward pursuing excellence and being successful in competition.  This is when athletes run the risk of experiencing burnout and losing their love for the game.  For example, athletes who have been highly successful up to this point may lose motivation because they start to wonder things like, “I’ve been highly successful in competition, what next,” “Everyone, including myself expects me to win every time I compete and when I don’t, I am letting myself down and I am letting everyone else down too,” or “Focusing on winning and losing has taken the fun out of competing.”  At this point, athletes are considering life outside of competitive sports, and are starting to list the pros and cons of why they should continue on or call it quits.  They may find that they are in their prime, meaning that they are still healthy enough to compete, and/or still have something to prove.  Yet, they are lacking the motivation or competitive fire to compete.  It is at this point that athletes have to tap into or rekindle their ORIGINAL PASSION.  Get back to that first love of the sport, remind themselves of why they started playing in the first place, which for most, involves what made it fun in the first place.   A quote that serves as a nice reminder is this:

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back….play for her.”

 -Mia Hamm (pro soccer player 1987-2004)

All You Need is Love

Years ago I remember listening to a lecture by former Olympic runner.  He was a middle distance runner who won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a silver medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.  What stuck out from that lecture were his struggles leading up to his second Olympic appearance.  He stated that during that four-year span between 1984-1988 he was completely dedicated to his training, focused on his desire to run his fastest races, and to medal in another Olympics.  He spoke about this goal being his obsession.  He was highly successful in 1984 as he was a NCAA Champion in his event, won a gold in the Olympics, in 1985 he was ranked the number one runner in the world, and even broke the world record in his event.  His obsession with training and his determination to run faster would lead to years struggling with injury.  Looking back, he realized that his obsession during that time between the Los Angeles Olympics and Seoul Olympic caused him to over train, to question his identity as an athlete, and to burn out.

To rekindle his competitive fire/motivation, he stated that meeting his future wife and falling in love with her gave him perspective.  He talked about how his relationship made him realize what he referenced as the “bigger than me” moment.  Many athletes describe this moment as coming to understand the importance of believing in and/or giving to something outside of themselves.  For this athlete, falling in love helped him to see that there was more to life than just the pursuit of running.  He referred to this moment as his understanding that what he was doing as a runner was small in comparison to all the things happening around him in the world.  While small, he felt a connection that helped him to become more in touch with himself as a person, as well as being an athlete.  His love for his wife and what I see as him finding a balance in his self-identity as a runner and who he was outside of sport, allowed him to find his passion for sport and for life.  It was this perspective that allowed him to reconnect with why he loved running and competing in the first place.  As a result, he went on to qualify and medal in another Olympics, and continue to run professionally for over a decade.

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