Sportopedia Glossary

Athletes’ Transitions

Athletes’ Transitions

Athlete Transitions: Current models of athlete transitions have evolved from Schlossberg’s (1981) classic adaptation to transition framework that defined a transition as “an event or nonevent that results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and requires a corresponding change in one’s behavior and relationships (p. 5).” A typical event for athletes would be moving to a higher level of competition, whereas a nonevent would be an unrealized expectation such as not making the starting team. Athletes face a number of normative transitions throughout their lives that can be examined across physical, psychological, psychosocial, educational, and vocational domains and through stages of initiation, development, mastery, and discontinuation (Wyllerman, Alfermann, & Lavallee, 2004). Athletes may also experience paranormative
events, such as moderate or severe injuries or a family crisis.

Adaptation to athlete transitions is a factor of individuals’ cognitive appraisal of the situation, their personal resources and characteristics, and resources available within their environment. For example, does the athlete perceive the transition as ‘on time’ or ‘off time’? An ‘on time’ transition could be a planned retirement from elite level competition. An ‘off time’ transition could be a career ending injury during try outs for an Olympic team. Individual characteristics include age, health, life stage, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, acquired life skills, and experience with similar transitions.

Environmental factors include athletes’ interpersonal support system, availability of organizational supports, and existence of other stressors. Athlete Transitions are not discreet events, but rather multidimensional situations with many biopsychosocial components. Transitions occur when athletes begin to anticipate them, continue during their duration, and do not conclude until the aftermath of the transition has been determined. These transitions have their own set of characteristics (timing, duration, contextual
purity) and athletes’ reactions to them are often a product of their individual and support system resources, their level of preparation (pre-transition priming), and their past experience dealing with similar events.


Schlossberg, N. K. (1981). A model for analyzing human adaptation to transition. The Counseling Psychologist, 9, 2 18.

Wyllerman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transitions in sport: European perspectives. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 5, 7 20.

***Contributed by Albert Petitpas for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.