One of the biggest transition periods in someone’s life is the experience of leaving home and fending for oneself. For many young athletes, this happens at the end of their school life when they leave home for college or university. It’s an exciting time with lots of new opportunities and experiences available, but it can also represent a huge challenge for many young people.
Leaving home for university presents not only a new home, but also a new town or city, new friends, a new education system, a new coach and sports club, a new routine and a different culture. And all this is thrown into the mix with the added allure of no parents getting in the way of the abundant opportunities to party. It’s a heady mix.
The Sport Dropout Zone
In the sporting world the early years of college and university are widely seen as a high drop-out period in sport. There are lots of reasons that this might happen, but one of the most obvious ones is that young people just aren’t ready to manage all the elements of their life that allow them to cope with their academic AND their sporting commitments. In some cases, where young people can take or leave their sport, dropping out is a simple solution to free up more time. But for others the journey to that point is fraught with poor physical and mental health and feelings of failure that they are unable to manage when some of their peers seem to be doing it just fine.
I worked for many years as a sports coach working with student aged sportsmen and women. It was heartbreaking to see enthusiastic, talented young athletes, brimming with potential, slowly crumble as they struggled to stay on top of training, studying, nutrition, personal care, social life and anything else that was pulling them in different directions. Of course, sports coaches, academic staff and pastoral care staff at universities have a duty of care to help and support young people to ride the wave of transition and find their independence. But often young athletes feel the need to present a robust and tough image, asking for help is often a last resort and by then, the damage has been done.
How Can Parents Help?
So what is the solution? I work with parents all the time on preparing young people for the move away from home. As athletes there are various simple skills which they really need to have mastered to make their lives easier:
- Can they cook a week’s worth of nutritious meals on a budget?
- Can they operate a washing machine and stay on top of laundry?
- Can they clean a bathroom and a kitchen, including cleaning the dreaded loo?
- Can they budget efficiently so that a term’s worth of money lasts a term and not the first two weeks?
There’s often much hilarity over this as parents realise the inadequacy of their young teen’s skill level in these areas. And I get that, trying to get a teenager to clean a loo might be one battle that you have chosen NOT to have! But finding opportunities to practise these skills is invaluable. We all know what term time is like, but can you experiment with giving them specific chores during the school holidays? Maybe asking them to cook a meal a week for the whole family or do a weekly shop for you to a specific budget? Clean one of the bathrooms or do the family laundry for a week? They are very adept at working all manner of technology for their own leisure, a vacuum cleaner, washing machine and microwave are NOT beyond them! And I implore you to start early. As soon as they are at secondary school they can start to do things for themselves or as part of the family ‘team’. That way, by the time they hit eighteen it’s second nature.
It’s Never Too Late!
And if you are reading this and thinking it is too late, they have literally just left to take up their place at Uni. It’s never too late! Get stuck in with up-skilling them over the Christmas and Easter holiday to make sure that when they move into their second and third years of university, when there is usually even more independence, they are ready and confident to stay on top of it all. Buy them our Off to University Course to give them a little helping hand in the early days. It won’t replace teaching them to cook and clean, but it will help them to prioritise and to plan effectively, all of which helps them achieve balance. And ensure that you tell them, or show them by example that seeking help is not a weakness, it’s a vital strength that will stand them in good stead in sport and in life.
Of course there is more to independent life than cooking and cleaning. But mastering these basic skills really takes a huge chunk out of your young teen’s journey to independence. It means that they can focus on getting the most out of their whole university experience, rather than falling at the first hurdle and being unable to look after themselves.