The end of a sports season in the NFL starts at the edge of the holiday season… late December or early January. At that time, emotions are mixed with excitement, anticipation and anxiety driven by the win/loss record of the team. One letter determines the disposition of the football family whether player, coach or general manager. “H” for hired, "T" for traded (player) or “F” for fired (coach, general manager). These letters will create a reassuring smile of confidence or fretful frown of uncertainty. Often found hovering in the shadows of the minds of sports families is the fear that the end of their season might come prematurely and unexpectedly before the season officially ends. In this instance, it is typically in the form of a trade or firing. We observe this every season yet seem shocked when it happens - even if anticipated. Completing a contract or making it through a season fuels hope of achieving the ultimate goal, as in the pursuit of a championship. This is the holy grail of a competitor's mind whether belonging to coach or player.
The arrival of the end of the regular season for many is a catalyst triggering the end of an existing contract, the search for a contract and hopefully the start of new one. Regardless of the circumstance, in order to remain employed in the industry relocation is imminent for many in each family. For the sports fan, the hiring or firing of a coach or the trading of or for a particular player* can create stimulating speculation about the team and its potential for the upcoming season. For the family, it creates significant stress as important and often difficult decisions must be made very quickly. It is the significant others (spouses, girlfriends, parents, etc.) who implement and oversee the transitioning process. Here is a short list of what happens after the team hires a coach or player: Coach/Player - meets with team officials in team city. Team may or may not provide team services or other transition specialist to serve as a resource for the relocation process. provided, the extent to which this person(s) is involved will depend on the status of the coach/ player. For example - head coach will likely have access to more supportive resources than an assistant coach. A star free agent veteran will likely receive more support than a journeyman free agent and a high draft pick will have more support than an undrafted rookie. The decision whether or not to relocate the family to the team city may not be made immediately. The logistics of the move are often handled by the significant other, and research is often needed in order to make informed decisions about the options and opportunities afforded the family. This includes determining affordability and feasibility of educational options (age of children, academic needs, etc), socio-cultural opportunities (a preschooler will not have the same needs as an adolescent), health care needs and providers, family/community support and who will be available as a source of emotional/psychological support - a critical need during the adjustment phase for the relocated family. The emotional and psychological toll of the transitioning process is often very heavy, and the significant other - as the logistical specialist and family stabilizer -typically absorbs the bulk of this stress. All relocating families – regardless of profession - experience similar stressors, such as learning a new job, team, geographical region, community,… However for professional sports families there is an additional layer. Their private family lives can be vulnerable to exposure and scrutiny by millions of people due to the spotlight of fame. The public’s perception of the lifestyles of professional athletes and coaches are often built on stereotypes, exaggerations and misperceptions. And while players and coaches have team (and perhaps their own) public relations specialists at their disposal as well as years of media training, family members do not usually have such support and assistance. Family members are “community based” - low security and largely unrestricted access while the players are “facility based” - high security and restricted access. Family members, without shelter from the media and public can suffer from the “deer in headlights” syndrome as they are blindsided by fallout from the performance or off-thefield activities of their player or coach. These sports family members can feel socially isolated in the community.
How do family members cope with these myriad challenges that come with change? Fortunately, there are time tested suggestions that may facilitate smoother transitioning and diminish some measures of stress in the process. Consider the following: 1. To move or not to move? Consider the needs of the family FIRST. Once you’re able to discern what your family needs, the rest of the transitioning will be easier to determine. 1.1. If you have school aged children consider their developmental, academic and social needs. The older they are, the more difficult it will be to adjust to a new community. 1.2.As much as possible, try to establish a home base in a community that provides a foundation of consistency and continuity along with a strong network of support. If the new team city cannot provide it, don’t move - at least not right away. 2. Establish a balanced lifestyle that includes an identity outside of sports. 2.1 While your life may be centered around the sports season, happiness does not have to be tied to it. Allow yourself to develop a hobby, expand your knowledge (attend classes), volunteer, etc. 2.2 Adopt a mindset of health and wellness. Take care of your body and mind - exercise, eat healthy and manage stress. Attitude is indeed everything. A number of teams have sponsored support groups and activities for family members. Some promote inclusion as members of the team family and are important contributors to the overall success of the team. Be sure to check with the appropriate contacts on the new team to see what programs, services and activities are available to help with your adjustment.
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