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The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport
The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport

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1 What are non-normative transitions?

Non-normative transitions refer to the unpredictable ‘within career’ transitions that an athlete might face. Unlike normative transitions, they are not transitions that can typically be predicted and planned for and can therefore be more difficult to manage. In the next activity you will consider the wide range of non-normative transitions that athletes may face in their time as sports performers and the potential psychological impact of these.

Activity 1 Non-normative transitions

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Make a list of some of the non-normative transitions that an athlete might experience during their sporting career. To help you with this, you may find it useful to think about your own experiences either as an athlete or as someone supporting an athlete

Select one or two of the transitions on your list and reflect on the potential psychological challenges that this transition might bring about.


By their very nature, the non-normative transitions that athletes may experience during their career are unpredictable and will vary from athlete to athlete. Below are some examples of non-normative transitions that an athlete might experience, together with some quotes illustrating their psychological impact. (You may have thought of other examples of non-normative transitions.)


I found it really hard to cope with not being able to compete while I was injured and the loss of form when I returned

(Lena, snow boarder)


The physiological changes that happened to my body during pregnancy were really difficult to cope with

(Sonal, cyclist)


Being a parent means that I have to plan my training sessions around childcare, and I feel really guilty when I travel away for a competition

(Lance, sprinter)


When I moved to a new house, I had to join a new hockey club and it was hard to fit in at first

(Trevor, hockey player)


Being dropped from the first team and having to play for the reserves was tough to take

(Kyle, footballer)

A change in weight category

I never expected to have to move from lightweight to light welterweight – everything felt different

(Azir, boxer)

Financial pressures reducing participation

I got a new job with more money which I needed to pay my mortgage, but it meant I couldn’t get to as many training sessions as I used to which was really frustrating

(Sarah, rower)

A change of coach

When my coach retired, I moved to another coach and she did everything differently to what I was used to and it took me a while to adjust

(Asha, high jumper)


At the 2017 World Athletics Championships, around thirty athletes were quarantined due to an outbreak of gastroenteritis. Hurdler Thomas Barr who was forced to miss his semi-final race said that he was ‘gutted’ as his whole year had been focused on this competition (BBC, 2017).

As you can see from the list above non-normative transitions can include both positive events, such as parenthood, and negative events, such as injury or illness. These transitions can be challenging for an athlete to deal with – even if they are positive – particularly as the athlete may not have had time to prepare for the transition.

You are now going to look at two examples of the non-normative transitions identified in Activity 1 in more detail. For the remainder of this session you will focus on sport injury, and in Session 6 you will focus on parenthood.