The disturbing transformation of Cliff Harris a one-time All-American high school athlete, Pack 12 champion, and former NFL hopeful is unfortunate but not new. In fact, athletes self-destructive behavior post career is becoming a common theme for collegiate and professional athletes who are forced to transition out of sports. Transitional Management is a term we rarely associate with sports however the lack of transitional management services afforded to collegiate and professional athletes is at a minimum, and the need seems to be ever growing.
When Michael Phelps retired from swimming, he lost his identity and didn’t have any direction. According to Phelps “I took some wrong turns and found myself in the darkest places you could ever imagine, that I hope nobody ever goes.” The reality of Phelps loss of identity will be experienced by many collegiate and professional athletes. Although the athletic community and media witness issues and challenges athletes face, we still have not grasped the formula to assist young men and women who give us their all.”
What’s the cause of athletes spiraling out of control after they leave the game and what is needed to prevent it? The proper term is Athletic Identity Transitional Management. Consider it a guide to understanding the multilevel platform of transitions experienced through sports participation, with a careful examination of the thought and behavior process associated with a significant change. When we understand the process of thinking and behavior, we then can begin to work toward a successful transition. According to Ronnie Stokes, former Ohio State standout, “Transitional support services are vitally important, unfortunately, kids leave college ill-equipped in certain areas, they are thrown out and expected to survive in a number of sectors, and the transition is an ongoing process.”
Some argue why should any collegiate or professional organization provide transitional management services for former players? After all, when an employee or volunteer is fired or leaves a volunteer position in the workforce, they are never provided transitional management services. My argument is simple, these staff and volunteers that work for a company didn’t dedicate a significant part of their youth and adult life to that profession or that company, neglecting other opportunities in pursuit of becoming the best athlete they can be.
The transition from sports to the real world is documented as a difficult one. However, athletes experience many transitions before transitioning out of sports, which we neglect. Collegiate and professional organizations seem to have issues and challenges providing adequate programs and resources to assist athletes when experiencing a transition. While they have programs in place, these programs are either, out of touch or misinformed on the particular type of services athletes require. Therefore, we are witnessing unfortunate stories of athletes who have everything going for themselves and end up with nothing.
If we expect athletes behavior in and outside of the sport to improve, our behavior, understanding, and approach to assisting athletes with the transitional phases need to improve as well. More importantly, accountability for the well-being of athletes must become more than lip service or driven by the buddy system, specifically on the collegiate level.
Athletes dedicate years to the sport and the athletic community as he/she attempts to become the best they can be, meanwhile providing entertainment for fans, alumni, as well as generating revenue. Collegiate and professional organizations have an obligation to provide transitional management services for athletes they encounter, even when an athlete is removed from the institution for a disciplinary reason. Was Cliff Harris provided any assistance during the transitions he encountered while providing athletically related services? Has anyone reached out to offer assistance to him now?
It’s sad when a former collegiate athlete will receive a letter or call from their universities foundation soliciting dollars but never receive a phone call from the athletic department asking how they are managing the transition.
For information on the Institute for Personal Player Development, Transitional Management program click here: Transitional Management Program