J im sits drenched in sweat having just finished his second workout of the day. He can’t help but think of running out of the tunnel in an NFL uniform. The money will buy his mom a new home. The fame will validate him from the haters that said he never lived up to the hype that followed him to college. Maybe he never pushed like this before, but never have the stakes been so high. The league was the goal all along. The athlete will soon be redeemed as he reaches his goal on his hero’s journey.  

F rom Buddha to Luke Skywalker, the story pattern identified by writer Joseph Campbell as the Hero’s Journey is found not only in books and action movies, but in everyday life. We relate so well with these characters because we find ourselves in our own great adventures that stretch us to become better as we overcome great obstacles time and time again. Maybe not movie worthy, but they are our own and very real. Unfortunately, for Jim, the story ends abruptly. No slaying of the dragon or saving the village or winning a Super Bowl. Not even an invite to a team’s minicamp.  

J im was living out a story that we see from time to time in college football where an athlete suddenly finds a huge well of motivation as their dream to play professionally draws near. We often step back as coaches and wonder where this effort was during the four years they were under our care. What were they thinking? What could have been done?  

A growing body of research is demonstrating how the power of one’s perceived personal story can impact the wellbeing and outcome of life. Our personal story moves into a central place in our conscious in the late teens and early 20’s while we are living in a time where social roles are changing and a period of exciting but confusing hurdles will present themselves. The role of a coach and specifically a player development (strength) coach in the story of an athlete during this time can be significant. How we understand the story and where we intervene needs to be explored.
A personal story in the world of psychology is termed narrative identity and is defined by McAdams and Mclean (2013) as a “person’s internalized and evolving life story, integrating the reconstructed past and imagined future to provide life with some degree of unity and purpose.” Narrative identity is a piece of the personality puzzle that merges with traits we are born with and stay mostly stable throughout life (dispositional traits such as extroversion and friendliness), and traits that have grown out of the world we live in that make us individuals (characteristic adaptations like values, goals, and interests). If depositional traits are the personality’s foundation and frame and the characteristic adaptations fill in the spaces for the walls and roof, narrative identity is what makes the house a home.  

T he ability to form a narrative identity is found in late adolescents as the brain continues to mature and new cognitive advancements mix with social concerns to pose the big questions of “who am I” and “where am I going?” This new angst filled “sense of possibilities” is a key component in a period that Clark University psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett (2007) calls the emerging adult.

E merging adulthood is an evolving idea that looks at a growing body of evidence which studies the life stage that bridges the gap between adolescents and adulthood. Much of the recent data reveals the age that traditional adult roles such as finding a partner, acquiring full time work, having children and buying a home are being delayed (Marantz Henig 2010). The reasons for this growing separation are many and cannot be simplified, but what is clear is the emerging adult is left with an unchained gap in time where roles and attachments of teens years (family, school, mentors, clubs, sports, church) are being left behind and adult roles and attachments are viewed as something to be dealt with when the time and circumstance are right for the individual. 
E ighty-six percent of emerging adults state that this period of life is a time of fun and excitement (Arnett 2007). With all of the possibilities, freedom, and support (money thanks to parents) to explore their identity and create the story they believe fits, it is easy to understand why. Arnett found the same sample of 1,000 young adults were stressed (72%) and a majority (58%) thought that adulthood would be more fun than their current life (Beck 2012). This period of mixed messages is a time where mental and physical wellbeing can be extremely volatile and substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and trauma (car accident, suicide) are most common. If we pile on the additional pressures of year round sport and training for student athletes, you start to see a picture of why the period of the emerging adult and their developing narrative identity can seem as confusing to the athlete and their coach as it did for the character Jim from the story above.  

S o we as coaches and mentors are confronted by the question, “How do we help?” How do we help Jim want more from his story before college is over? How do we help the soccer player overcome the hurdles when she seems to be failing in all areas of her life? What can be done for the basketball player that is overwhelmed by the level of play of his teammates and has mentally checked out?  How do we intervene when any athlete is living a story that we think can be improved? Do we intervene at all? In part two of this article we will look deeper into the role of the coach in the athlete’s story and outline some practical tips that a coach can use in their day to day interaction with their athletes.
Thanks for reading! Stick around for the next edition of Coaches Corner every other Monday.
About The Author 
Curtis Turner came to Georgia Tech in 2013 as a player development coach. Prior to his arrival on The Flats, he spent 10 years on the strength and conditioning staff at Vanderbilt. Turner served on Vanderbilt’s staff as an assistant speed, strength and conditioning coach from 2003-10. During that time, he assisted in all facets of player development for football training programs. In 2010, he was promoted to director of strength and conditioning for men’s basketball, a role he held until he departed for Georgia Tech in May 2013. Turner has trained or assisted in the training of nearly 40 current or former professional athletes, 13 all-Americans and more than 50 all-conference selections. An active speaker, coach and clinic organizer, his programs have been featured in  Men’s Health  and  Golf Digest  magazines and on Yahoo! Sports and ESPNU All-Access. He is certified by the College Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA). Turner graduated from Clemson in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology education.
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