Facing retirement from your sporting career can be tough, but knowing what to expect can make the transition easier. Here, we highlight the challenges that athletes may face when they finish competing.
All athletes have to face the reality that one day their sporting careers will end and they will have to begin a new chapter in their lives. Some may reach retirement sooner than others – New Zealand’s Julie Brougham was still competing in dressage at last year’s Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the age of 62 – but eventually every athlete will have to call it a day. The transition into a post-sport life isn’t always easy, but you can make sure you’re prepared for the transition by reading about the challenges that you may be facing…
Loss of structure
As an athlete, you are used to following a rigid training schedule. While at first it may seem liberating not having to get up and train every day, the lack of a strict routine can often leave you feeling lost. If you’re used to having things done for you by coaches or members of your entourage, then planning your own life and even carrying out simple tasks can often be difficult. To overcome this, try building some structure into your regular day by creating a schedule – even if it includes nothing more than eating breakfast and doing some laundry, it will help give you some goals for the day.
Loss of focus
Throughout your sporting career you will have been focused on achieving your goals – be it breaking a world record, winning an Olympic gold medal or qualifying for the Olympic Games. Once you retire, that lack of a clear goal can often be challenging. Britain’s double Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell has said: “I think people suffer from depression after retiring from sport because they aren’t sure where to apply that focus…there is a lot of focus and a lot of selfishness in sportsmen.” It can therefore help to find new challenges in your life to replace your sporting goals, whether that is achieving success in the workplace or simply setting yourself new targets, such as climbing a mountain or learning to play the guitar.
Loss of identity
For many people, what you do for a living can often define who you are and there’s a certain pride in introducing yourself as athlete when you meet someone for the first time. If you’ve always seen yourself as an athlete, you may find it challenging to adapt to a new identity and career. It’s therefore important to think about your passions and find something else that inspires you.
Lack of feedback
Whether you’re training or competing, you will always be receiving feedback on your performances and finding ways to make improvements. But in the real world, jobs don’t usually work like that. Sometimes performance reviews are months apart and you can be left to work on tasks independently, without any immediate feedback on what you’re doing. This can be tough for many athletes to adjust to, but finding a job that is performance-driven can help make the transition easier.
A new diet
It may seem trivial, but if you’re not burning off the calories of an Olympic athlete then you can’t eat like one! While you may have been used to consuming thousands of calories a day to fuel your training, normal people have to watch their intakes slightly more closely. Many athletes find it difficult to adjust to a new diet and can often pile on the pounds without their regular workouts, so try to think carefully about what you’re eating.
A sense of melancholy
Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard once said about retirement: « Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring. There is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on. »
It can certainly be hard to accept that you’ll never experience that feeling again when you retire, and athletes may find themselves suffering from depression as they ‘grieve’ the end of their sporting career. It’s completely natural to feel that way – and it’s something that almost all athletes will have felt – so don’t be afraid to talk about your fears with fellow athletes, your entourage or a sports psychologist.