Although the decision to retire may be difficult in many professions, it is particularly challenging for professional athletes, given their lifelong commitment and personal identification with their sport.
There are various reasons for athlete retirement, and as such, they require a differing approach in transition. These can be broken into two main areas,
- Normative – Predictable and Anticipated
- Non Normative – Injury, cut or traded etc.
Within these main area’s are sub areas – Injury, cut or traded, poor performance, enjoyment (or lack of), family reasons, financial reasons to name a few, which an athlete will also have to come terms with before making a successful transition into the next phase of their life.
An outside perception of Athlete transition is, that it’s no different to any non athlete transitioning in an aspect of their life. Yes, it’s true, similarities do exist, and as a coach who specialises in Athlete Transition and Career Coaching, any kind of transitioning often causes feelings of anxiousness of the unknown, and self doubt at the possibilities that lay ahead.
While there are similarities, that’s where it ends. Athlete transition is truly unique. Elite athletes dedicate themselves to their chosen sport physically and mentally from a young age to achieve their athletic goals. Because of this they attribute a large proportion of their self-identity and worth during their formative years to the sporting version of themselves. As well as their own personal perception, external perceptions are also inextricably linked through direct and indirect praise as an ‘athlete’ by friends and family. i.e. ‘Dave, he’s my little gun footballer, he’ll playing AFL in no time’.
The pursuit of sporting success will often see athletes sacrificing commitments towards education, peers, family and romantic relationships, during their formative years to be the best at their chosen sport. This isn’t uncommon, and part of the athlete journey to become the best they possibly can be.
Transition, whether it be from a ‘normative or ‘non normative’ aspect, for any athlete who associates their worth and themselves strongly with their sporting identity will undergo an initial stage of shock and a grieving process for their career – their achievements, the adulation experienced by fans, the competitive battle, and comrade with team mates undertaken on a daily/weekly basis.
On top of this, once athletes ‘retire’ they become disassociated, and disjointed with their daily routine which they’ve known for a large part of their life. They no longer have access to the training facility, team travel, team mates, coaches, and support staff who have been a ‘de facto’ home and family for a large part of their lives.
That process can be, and is confronting, and if athletes don’t have sufficient resources or a support network around for ‘retirement’ planning, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and potential negative experiences with drugs/alcohol and gambling addiction.
Ideally it would be beneficial for athletes to better balance their interests outside of their sporting world, in order to safeguard themselves from potential issues associated with exclusively identifying with themselves as ‘an athlete’. Time constraints with training commitments will often lead to limited amounts of exposure, and not enough to truly achieve balance. However it’s better than none at all. The more an athlete is exposed to potential interests to pursue post career, the better.
With the right support in identifying passions outside of their chosen sport, athletes will be able to overcome their struggles to find new purpose and move toward accepting retirement and feeling grateful for their careers.
Keep in mind, it’s common for athletes to struggle with the transition into retirement, and the next phase of their lives; however, by seeking professional services, support from family and friends, they will be able to accept the conclusion of their career as a successful professional athlete, and transitions their skills to thrive in the next phase of their lives.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be putting together an Athlete transition series exploring various factors of transition, and providing practical advice to assist with successful transitioning.
If you are an athlete, a parent of an athlete, sport administrator, or coach and wish to begin putting support services in place for your athletes post career, or seeking support yourself, I’d love to hear from you at https://stridelifecoaching.com.au/contact/
Be sure to subscribe and follow along this journey with me, at www.stridelifecoaching.com.au/blog/athletetransition/