Hi and welcome back!
Today is the second in the Athlete Transition Series, examining the issues athletes face with retirement.
I’m going to highlight factors and issues which are unique and require consideration before identifying other passions, finding true purpose and leading to successful athlete transition.
So, let’s get into it.
I mentioned in my first article the unique challenges faced by athletes. (You can find the original article here Athlete Transition – What’s the big deal?)
But to summarize;
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.
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, as athlete transition is truly unique. Elite athletes dedicate themselves to their chosen sport physically and mentally from a young age in order to achieve their athletic goals. Because of this they attribute a large proportion of their self-identity 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 be playing pro in no time’.
Now that we’ve briefly covered last weeks article and how athletes see themselves, let’s now look at what unique issues an athlete will face that require consideration and addressing before making a successful transition.
Sense of Personal Control
The highly structured nature of elite sports limit athletes’ sense of control outside of their sporting world, as their daily routines, behaviours and decision-making processes are often made by their coaches or sports associations.
This lack of personal control can cause problems for athletes when adjusting to their non-sporting identity after retirement, due to the loss of structure, routine and discipline to which they were previously accustomed. The intensive and enduring training schedules which athletes adhere and also enjoy during their careers are also often difﬁcult to duplicate outside of sport. Many athletes will say being excluded from the social practices of their sport, and the loss of camaraderie with team-mates and the joy of competition, were key parts of their sporting life which they struggled to replace after retirement.
The loss of identity and prestige of being an elite athlete can lead to problems with an athlete’s sense of personal control. However, many athletes are happy to be free from the stress of high performance and look forward to their lives after sport, although unsure of what it may look like. Team-mates, coaches and sport organisations can play a key role in discussing an athlete’s feelings about looming retirement and help them to plan accordingly. This can give retiring athletes a greater sense of personal control over the transition.
One of the primary challenges associated with the early retirement age of former athletes is how and/or whether they need to transition into a new career.
A unique consideration for athletes, is that some may have to re-train for a new occupation, whereas other athletes may have the financial security not to have to work. There are potential issues with both, as the athletes undertaking a new career have to reconstruct a new sense of self, where the financially secure athlete has to work out how to fill the time and routines of their previous sporting schedule. A lack of formal qualifications for many former athletes is a concern that can be encountered during their transition into a new career; and for those athletes who are wealthy enough not to have to work, poor financial advice has led to several issues.
Its important to note that although problems are experienced by a substantial number of athletes when starting a new career, many athletes use their skills and experiences developed during their sporting life to flourish in other roles.
To assist athletes, it is extremely important for sporting organisations to offer mentoring opportunities and life skills education during an athletes’ career in order to help develop a stronger understanding of how their skills in sport can be transferred into other areas, which will smooth the transition into retirement.
Often sporting clubs, associations, and various player associations provide support services for athletes, however, some of these services feel like sponsored lip service, and to tick a box, rather than genuine assistance and taking an interest in the next phase of an athletes life.
Ideally, a private and tailored approach is most successful, and allows an athlete to explore their passions and examine where that may lead them in the next phase of their life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s article. Stay tuned for the next in the series as we delve into mental health challenges athletes face post career, and look at effective strategies and practical suggestions to help.
If you are an athlete, a parent of an athlete, sport administrator, or coach and wish to engage Stride to begin putting support services in place for your athletes post career, or seeking support yourself, I’d love to hear from you
Thanks for your time, and as always if you have any comments, please leave them below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Aaron Tenabel is the owner and founder of Stride Life Coaching. An ex professional swimmer and elite coach, Aaron now uses those experiences and skills to empower individuals and teams to reach their ultimate success.