It seems like athletics is a constant cycle of evaluations. Whether it is a self-evaluation, which for most of us is infinite or it is someone else evaluating us. The feedback loop is on repeat. The progression of someone evaluating you as an athlete goes from hanging on to every word that every authority says to us like it is gospel to finally having to decipher if this information is beneficial to myself and my team or my performance. There became a filtration process to how I evaluated the evaluations I received. Some could be harmful or distracting. I don’t know if this progress grew out of maturity and wisdom or arrogance and resistance. The athlete is conditioned from a very early age to become a sponge when someone is giving you constructive criticism. This is an enduring task for a young athlete, a teen athlete and even a college athlete. Most of it is all well-intended, advice rearing and good-hearted. Some of it becomes pressure, unrealistic expectations or burdensome. It is a lot to navigate at times especially when those sources are inconsistent or changing from coach to coach, various parental figures and distant “experts” around you. Nonetheless, you take it all in and you hope most of it spits itself out as motivation and attention to work on weaknesses without ruminating on it.
As I physically and mentally developed as an athlete I began to endorse a "sand sieve" approach. The unnecessary and static noise fell through the hole while the well-timed, hearty and forward thinking feedback stayed. This comes in a self-evaluative way too. We feed ourselves a ton of garbage and static noise that is intended to distract us and derail us from the task at hand. There needs to be sieve there too but it is harder when we have to dissuade ourselves from our ourselves instead of an outsider who we can easily write off. It takes a lot to write off ourselves. It could even be so powerful that it defies the objectivity of the games - the stats, the numbers, the scoreboard. At the very least numbers are a consistent and a steady eval for us. They are cold and blunt, occasionally misleading but they always show up; there is no absenteeism involved. The repetition of consuming this can become obsessional and we can let the noise in our head get to us and take us away from what we have to do. We have just gotten to a confident place - a place where we have control over most of this. We have arrived at an athletic point where we have sifted through all feedback cycles, various evaluations and self-evaluations. We can run with the productive stuff and leave the baggage.
It took years and years, a lot of self-doubts, a lot of who to trust and a lot of how much should I buy into my stats. And now, your career, is over.
There comes an abrupt stop. The familiar systems, the ones that hurt us and the ones that helped us are no longer available. They have no more vacancy. We have to learn new ones. We have to learn how to self-evaluate better and differently in a different field. We need to learn who to trust now in our respective fields and learn what information will move us forward and what information will weigh us down. Getting evaluated and toggling through feedback in my current work been challenging. It seems so drastically different from how we got evaluated or evaluated ourselves in sport. For one, my job itself is in a helping field - a lot of that comes with subjectivity and personal opinion. For those working in other professions where numbers need to be met, kept and exceeded, maybe there is a familiarity to that of the score board or the stat sheet. It still seems as though there is a lot of subjectivity or at least in consistency.
For better or for worse we had multiple voices in our ears to lay out for us exactly what happened, what we did, what we have to do and where we have to get to. The void of that should in one sense provide a peace but there is also a percentage that leaves a lot of room for uncertainty and a craving for that little voice on your shoulder whether it was your parent, your coaches, your teammates or opponents and critics.
I’m struggling with the navigation of who is truly trying to help me gain an advantage or became better at my job. I am struggling with understanding that all those people around me as an athlete - coaches, trainers etc. ; it was their job to push me, support me, make me better. Their paychecks relied on it essentially. I found there is an absence of authentic evaluation, consistent feedback and perpetual coaching now well, because the real world is not like that. A lot of other people around you see you as their competition, as someone they need to move through to advance themselves, but hey, competition, we’re pretty good at that too.
It’s a tough pill to swallow though, when you soaked up a team first, everybody kind of approach and now are in a rugged individualism type of setting. There is a yearning for the voice of your coach or trainer and teammates. Almost all of our interviewees have said that they in fact are more prepared for their jobs in the real world because of their college athletic background than they initially thought. This is not to say that consistent supervision and evaluations from our bosses are worthless and empty. Not at all, but it is all different. Your boss is not your coach. That is not their job and so we shouldn’t be reliant on it for such. I think this does mean that you can seek out outside mentorship, professional development and further education as a way to grow yourself. Expand and enhance the professional community of your field and those in it, in real life and online. Learn from them and allow them to become part of your growth.
This has paid dividends for me in just the last 2 years. I hadn’t tapped the outside network of other professionals in my field who are looking to advance the field. Online their is a strong educational and mental health presence for me, twitter specifically is a huge professional learning space. Also, getting together at continuing education programs and workshops with other counselors is so valuable. Their support and feedback is refreshing and motivating. This is coming slowly to me, it is helping fill in the gaps. We have played our sports for a lifetime and we were still learning. Many of us reading this have only been in our careers for a handful of years. We have a lot to learn, so let’s keep learning.
Chalk Talk is a weekly What's Next column by Anthony Cinelli, one of our founders. It will be published every Monday morning. Anthony is currently a mental health counselor and baseball coach in New Jersey.