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Psycho-Social Adaption of the Soccer Player to the College Game

Posted by Austin Overmann on Mar 4, 2016 in Events 0 Comments

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NSCAA.com has been posting recaps from the 2016 NSCAA Convention. The following is a session recap from one session held during the week.


Max Trenerry, a neuropsychologist for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. spoke at the 2016 NSCAA Convention in Baltimore in January, discussing the challenges faced by athletes adapting to the college game and how their coaches can ease the transition. As a psychologist, Trenerry examined this typically difficult transition from a psycho-social point of view.

From a psychological standpoint there are three core pieces of player development from a psychological standpoint. Trenerry discussed in depth the cognitive, moral, and social development that athletes go through during their teenage years.

Mentally, athletes are given more autonomy at the college level. As teenagers break through into the formal operational stage of psychology, they gain the ability to think in a more sophisticated manner. Autonomy has a larger impact on athletes than coaches realize.

Think about this: “Do your athletes respond better when having a choice of what to do at practice or when you tell them exactly what to practice?” If you regulate your activities, athletes lose all autonomy, leading to a decrease in intrinsic motivation.

As athletes move from high school to college a coach’s influence upon the player increases exponentially. While parents have an influence within the home, coaches have more contact with players as they get older. Especially in college, players may have little contact with their parents while coaches are in contact with them daily.

Friends also have a major impact on a student-athlete from a social standpoint by having an influence on both affiliation and belonging. Both of which are human emotional needs and components of motivation. Without these components, athletes will feel less intrinsically motivated to perform at a high level, which is influenced by an athlete’s environment.

For coach’s it’s important to know what type of environment your players came from, whether or not that’s an authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive environment.

In an authoritarian environment rules are absolute with little responsiveness from guardians, as opposed to an authoritative environment where proper discussion is held to deliberate rulings. Players that have the toughest time adapting to college life come from permissive environments where parents either too often aim to please their children, or neglect their needs altogether.

As a coach, there are things you can do to ensure a smooth transition for each of the players on your team. Consistency is key for players, and they should know what’s expected of them early on in their careers. You must also showcase what resources are available for your student-athletes. Colleges often have both academic and clinical professionals available at the disposal of athletes.

Coaches often believe they can “fix” a player, but what you must do is point them in the right direction and guide them on their journey. You won’t be able to change the environment they grew up in which has an impact on who they become. However, coaches are needed for encouragement, support, and praise.

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