The Importance of a Strong Support Network

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post sharing some of my advice for recent college graduates as they enter the “real world.” In writing that, I realized that I have more to say on the topic of building a solid support network and its importance. I hold this concept as a priority in my life and think that we all need to feel like we are a part of something bigger and a part of a community in order to thrive in whatever it is we do each day.

Times of transition, like graduating from college, finishing your athletic career or starting a new job can cause your network and ties to community to be in flux. This leaves you vulnerable to little support at a time when you need it most. For many athletes, the lack of community is one of the biggest issues that can surface during the transition out of athletics.

A couple of things to keep in mind during your transition:  

  1. Be proactive. Proactively think through what this network and community looks like for you. Who’s in it? What roles are going to shift during transition? How will you keep relationships from a far and build your virtual network?
  2. Creating awareness is a first step. Just pausing for a moment to be aware of the transition and your needs throughout the process can make all the difference in the world. This helps you notice red flags and catch yourself in behaviors before you get too deep in them to realize. By spending the time thinking about your transition, you can create the level of awareness around it you need to get you through it.
  3. Keep in mind that you have a virtual network to tap into as well. Throughout college, you have built some of the strongest relationships you will ever build in life -- with your teammates. Just because you are done competing doesn’t mean these relationships have to end. Put a plan in place for keeping in touch and building on those relationships.
  4. Get out and meet people. It’s not the first time (or the last) that you will have to do this, but stretching yourself in new social arenas can help you get things rolling in building your community post-college and post-athletics.

"Life is not a solo act. It's a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife."

-- Tim Gunn, TV Personality & Fashion Consultant

As you transition out of athletics, graduate from college and move into the workforce, knowing who is on your team and who you can turn to in times of need (or anytime, really) is important. Potential roles to think about filling:

  • Coaches: Sure, this can be your athletic / sports coaches, but also looking into a life or career coach can help ensure you are getting off on the right foot. Coaches can help guide you through your transition, making sure the right questions are being asked along the way.
  • Mentors: This is another great way to start your career off on the right foot. A great mentor can help you get moving in your career quickly. This person tends to give advice, share experiences and provide you with guidance based on your goals and where you are aiming to go (not to mention, this advice can lead you to making fewer mistakes as you learn).
  • Family: For me, these are the folks that keep me grounded. They help me remember what’s important. They are also the ones I get moody with because I’m most comfortable with them.  Regardless of my behavior, they are always there for me and knowing that is an assurance. (Thank you...I don't know what I would do with out you!)
  • Friends: There are different types of friends you need in your network. The ones you can call or text anytime for help or to talk. The ones you go running with, vent to, drink with, etc. You name it and I’m sure there is a “type of friend” category for it. I find this the toughest category to build, as great friends can sometimes be few and far between. 
  • Coworkers & Teammates: I put these two in the same category because they fill essentially the same roles. Someone you are working toward a common goal with. Someone to share wins and loses. Someone to share frustrations and happiness. You’re all in the same boat. Because of this, you can all relate to each other really well and this makes the bond that much stronger.
  • Counselor / Therapist: This is a really important one. Sometimes we all need a little bit of assistance in our lives. Sometimes we might need support working through our emotions or a difficult situation. Perhaps we don't even know what is wrong, just that something is "off." If this is the case, this is the group to get in touch with first. It's okay to ask for help when we need it and these professionals are here for this reason. Know how to get a referral or find resources for these services and keep it in your back pocket.

Who else would you add to this list? What do you value most from your community or network?