Making the transition from amateur to professional sport

There are many factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic, involved in making the transition to the higher levels of a sport.

Elite players are paid very well, and to keep up their intensity and competence, they train harder, play smarter and run their lives in a very professional manner.   -  AP

For millions of young sportspersons across the globe committing themselves to making a mark in their chosen field, getting into a professional or elite academy or institution is the first step towards that target. But it is not a guaranteed launchpad to success, as a lot of other factors and realities come into play. Those with an abundance of talent and potential get into the elite academies, but this comes with challenges and obstacles — both physically and psychologically.

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What are the challenges?

The first is the ability to thrive in a new environment — coping with the situation and the culture clashes. Being set in their routines and patterns from earlier, this requires a shift in the sportspersons’ thinking processes and requires them to make adjustments.

For example, attending an academy full time while also focusing on studies can be very challenging. One needs to cope with being away from family and friends, cope with the travel times for training, cultivate new friend circles or groups, et cetera.

The mode and method of training can be completely different from what the athletes have been used to. In the previous setup, he or she may have been at the top of the natural selection process. But in the new one, they may need a chance to prove themselves, since the peer group may be more talented or experienced, and they need to be mentally strong to face this.

For an amateur sportsperson moving to the elite levels, the pressure sources can be many and are both intrinsic and extrinsic in nature.

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Intrinsic factors

  • Mental and physical readiness
  • Coaches’ feedback
  • Getting enough playing time with the elite team
  • Performance evaluation through competence

Extrinsic factors

  • Personal development of an individual
  • Coping with teammates
  • Teammates’ attitude toward the individual
  • How others view you from the outside

The professionals in the team — the coaches, psychologists, management — can help smoothen the transition to elite levels.

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What does it take to thrive in elite sport?

Now that we’ve identified the factors that contribute to athletes getting to the top, what are the ones for them to thrive at the highest level?

  • Passion to play the game is the crux of the matter
  • Have the right set of goals and focus
  • Taking control of the situation
  • Highly motivated to do the desired task with excellence
  • Overall improvement in skills
  • Being aware of the areas to be improved
  • Single-minded focus
  • Perseverance to overcome any obstacles
  • Optimistic in approach
  • Learning and adapting quickly both mentally and physically
  • Self-motivation to the highest level
  • Open-minded to new learning
  • Progressive mindset towards upward mobility
  • Using mental imagery techniques
  • Positive attitude to manage stress and anxiety
  • Commitment to both individual and team goals
  • Team player in all aspects if in a team sport
  • Setting clear goals on various parameters — from physical to mental to skill set
  • Adapt to any situation
  • Sense of belonging in the group or team
  • Ability to motivate oneself in various situations

Do you have it in you?

“When and where am I going to play the next game?” is a question most sportspersons face in their playing years.

The chance can come suddenly, and it can be hard to adjust to the factors in the beginning. The foremost difference that amateur athletes come across when they move to a higher level is how much faster the game is and how much greater the intensity and duration are. Amateur sports are still fast and very competitive in the age groups, but the higher levels have their own different and difficult challenges.

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Elite players are paid very well, and to keep up their intensity and competence, they train harder, play smarter and run their lives in a very professional manner in order to keep their place in the team. They need to be bigger, stronger, fitter and well-prepared for any situation.

Nothing can be taken for granted — from training to diet. With an efficient time management system in place, a lot can be achieved. To cope, hiring professionals such as skill coaches, strength-and-conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, sports nutritionists, mental-conditioning specialists and recovery specialists can bring a paradigm shift in overall development and professionalism.

It takes a lot of sacrifice to become a successful elite athlete, and life can become hectic. Dealing with external pressures such as the media, fan expectations and being a public figure can be daunting and nerve-racking. What professionals do off the field could hold the key to what they do on it. But passion for the game can mitigate all other factors.

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