I sit on my computer every night on Twitter, NHL.com, or ESPN.com hoping to read any tiny bit of information or rumor about which player might be coming to my favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings. I cannot begin to describe how much my girlfriend hates it, as she might rattle off an entire paragraph of conversation and I, like a zombie, only nod and grunt as if I am listening. This might lead to a small fight or bickering between us, but hey, it is worth it, this is NHL free agency season!!
For those who are unfamiliar with free agency in the NHL or what free agency is in general, it is the period of the year when players who have expiring contracts can be bought freely or if they still have a contract, often times traded for obscene amounts of money in the off-season. The only other time trades happen are usually before the trade-deadline about 3/4 into the season, thus my obsession with needing to be connected 100% of the time. The other day whilst on the “twitterverse” I noticed a scary trend in my fellow NHL obsessives: they are brutally impatient.
For me, as for most fans, having one’s team land a big-time free agent is a big deal and can really make your day brighter. However, for these players, we are talking about multi-million dollar contracts possibly over 7-8 years in length. They have to juggle families, significant others, loyalties to a fan base, and of course their own well-being in these contractual decisions. This, of course, is expected by the majority of the fans to be completed in a matter of a few hours of hearing the offers. I mean, when one decides to make a once-in-a-lifetime decision, one should do it from the gut, with feelings, and not by taking time to think it over and speak to loved ones. I mean who needs friends when you have millions of dollars; just buy new ones!
Herein lies yet another unfortunate problem of our ever-more-connected world through the Internet. Years have become months, months have become weeks, weeks days, and days hours. The athletes of today do not have time to field phone calls, take time to discuss with loved ones and teammates, and finally inform the general managers where they will be playing. This is simply not good enough anymore. In today’s world, they give out small tidbits of information, which online reporters, bloggers, and twitter users go crazy over; speculating immediately where the young athlete will spend the next 10 years of his career. It does not stop there, as athletes are instantly made into heroes or villains, declared greedy or loyal, without ever having even made a decision.
This, in my opinion, as a sport psychologist specializing in transitions, is one of the new challenges that faces applied- and researched-based sport psychologists of the 21st century. The public eye, regardless of where one competes in the world, is an enormous amount of pressure, and no matter what an athlete says on the outside, he or she always faces the challenge of performing with that pressure. Recently two NHL athletes, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both removed themselves completely from the world, going home to visit family or relaxing on the family farm and released zero information to the public until their final decision. Although they frustrated many fans (included myself) by delaying their decision, I recommend a very similar policy to all psychologists (and their athletes) when a big decision is looming.
When a transition comes, we need to be prepared for it as best as possible. Schlossberg’s four “S” model (1981) might be an older model, but even today it can still be applied to this situation:
- Situation - where exactly am I coming from / where am I going to?
- Self - what type of person am I / how have I adapted in the past?
- Support - what type of friends or family do I have around me?
- Strategies - what are strategies I can use to deal with this transition?
Looking at our example of Parise or Suter, they both are 27, both have only played with one team their whole careers, and both were looking to receive a big pay-day with the new contract. Both players were quite soft spoken, humble to a great degree, and moved about their business quietly, so no reason to expect anything different. Both sought out support from their families and significant others as well as team-mates. However, we can conclude that the fan bases were quite hyperbolic either positively or negatively. Lastly, what were the strategies they had in coping with this decision? This we cannot know unless we were closer, but this is exactly where we as sport psychologists can help.
As sport psychologists, we can equip our athletes with the ability to prepare for big decisions and adapt for their big consequences. Give your athlete a chance to be successful no matter where he or she decides to compete. Communicating about our transition, identifying familiar situations on both sides of the transition, and having the athlete focus primarily on their sport (performance or process goals) are all good strategies that professional or growing athletes can use from one step to the other.
With the growing world of twitter, facebook, and every other method of information sharing on the Internet, the pressure will only become greater and only at a younger age. Successful transitions separate the great athletes from those who “could have been.” Make sure you do all so that your athletes become the great ones.
- Reference -
Schlossberg, N.K. (1981). A model for analyzing human adaptation to transition. Counseling Psychologist, 9(2), 2-18.
Peter Schneider is currently writing a PhD at the University of Leipzig (Germany). He attained a B.A from Kalamazoo College (USA) in Biology and received a M.Sc. from the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) in Sports and Exercise Psychology and a M.Sc. from the University of Leipzig in Diagnostics and Intervention. His area of focus is currently career transition and termination.