Dane asked me to write this article to outline some issues with the transition from collegiate track to post-collegiate track. This list if fairly personal, so I'm sure it won't resonate with everyone, but some people might find it helpful!
No one is making the schedule for you
Obviously, in college, the team staff handles scheduling. Deciding the meet schedule, figuring out travel dates and times for those meets, lodging, transportation, etc. For a good long time, someone else is handling all of that for you. Suddenly, you’re the person tasked with making all of this happen. If you’re lucky enough to train with a group, maybe they can help split costs and choose which meets are worthwhile. Even if this is the case, you have much more responsibility than you used to. So pay attention during the meets you might go to in college. Which ones had just collegiate competitors, and which allowed post-collegiate competitors? Are there any in your area that might be offering prize money? If you can’t afford to fly to all the big meets, can you afford to go to at least one? If not, you have to figure out how far you’re willing to drive for a meet, and select your meets more regionally than you might be used to. All of these are important details to take into account when planning your own season schedule.
2. You have to be very internally driven (no one cares)
Many high level athletes already know this well, but intrinsic motivation is absolutely necessary during the transition from collegiate to post-collegiate competition. There is no conference championship to care about, or any home meets to step up for. Now it’s just you, and USATF Nationals is the only meet that really matters (at first). I like to think of myself as having pretty high intrinsic motivation, but I am also a very team-oriented person. Losing the team atmosphere of collegiate track was definitely tough for me. It may sound overly negative, but the external roster of people who really care about what you’re doing seems to shrink a lot. Hopefully, you still have family members, maybe a significant other, your coach, and your training group (if you have one). Especially as a thrower, your sphere of influence in track and field is relatively small, and you won’t become a millionaire doing this sport, so you have to be 100% committed for yourself. If you’re not, things probably aren’t going to work out in the long run.
3. There are far fewer “checkpoints”
While internal confidence and motivation are supremely important, everyone always appreciates a benchmark--a chance to show what you can do. Personally, those meets were always the Penn Relays, the Ivy League Championships, and the NCAA East Regional. These were the “big game” moments, where you can feel the energy, and people step up and hit big throws when it matters. As a first-year post-collegiate thrower, I found there were far fewer of those moments. Particularly not being able to fly around to big elite meets across the country, I mostly found myself competing in open college meets, where I was certainly the oldest competitor, and usually competing just against myself. This point ties into the previous point, in that you are going to have to find that “big game” mentality in yourself, without all of the external cues that you need to step up. It could be a long, hot day in the middle of Pennsylvania at some random University for a meet of no real consequence, but you still need to come in the mindset that this meet is important, and you have to show up.
4. Redefining “success”
This one is more personal, although I’m sure there are some people out there who can empathize with this. For most of my career, I had defined a successful season as having some sort of pretty clear progression in terms of my PR, as well as competitive ability. Then I didn’t PR for almost 2 years. And then I finally PR’d early in my first post-collegiate season, and thought this was finally the moment that I’d make that jump. Then the distances sort of stalled, and I only managed to move my PR up by another 10cm for the rest of the season, all while failing to qualify for the National Championships (more on that below). At times, it was pretty easy for me to say, “well, shit, very little of that went the way I wanted it to. That kind of was a ba