Athletes dedicate their entire lives to their sports. From as long as many of them can remember to when their bodies ultimately tell them it is time to call it a career, athletes train tirelessly and put every fiber of their being into their sport. So, when that day finally comes to hang those cleats up, it can be a very difficult time in an athlete’s life and an even more strenuous transition to the next phase of their life.
First of all, many athletes experience a huge shock in their transition to a much less structured day-to-day routine. Accustomed to packed training schedules, highly regulated diets, and countless sponsorship meetings/events, newly retired athletes struggle to adjust. While it may seem as if these athletes would feel liberated by this newfound freedom, many athletes report feeling lost without it.
Another thing that these newly retired athletes struggle with is a lack of immediate feedback that they are used to receiving. Throughout their careers, athletes’ efforts are consistently recognized, dates of upcoming competitions are always known, and hundreds of important statistics are watched closely and compared with previous measurements. This allows athletes to always understand the level of fitness they are at and monitor the progress they are making. Many athletes are fueled by this sense of training and progress, meaning life after retirement can feel just a little too stagnant.
Furthermore, many athletes report lost feelings of identity after retirement. Most athletes have dedicated so much of their lives training, that their sport has become an integral part of who they are. They struggle to see who they are outside of their sport and find it difficult to choose a new career, especially one they feel is suited for. This lack of belonging leads many newly retired athletes to face depression and struggle with their mental health. Olympians in particular, report a sense that they were on top of the world performance-wise, and struggle coping with the fact that they will most likely never be able to feel that way again and never play the sport they loved in a competitive environment ever again.
While athletes navigate these difficult times, it helps them to focus on the assets that helped them make it this far. Most athletes advertise their strong stamina, work ethic, resilience, competitive spirit, and ability to be good team players during their career transition. Most importantly, however, athletes must recognize that this transition will take time, according to British rower Elise Laverick Sherwell.
“I think people try and rush it too much,” Sherwell said in an Olympic interview. “They feel they have to do something, and they panic. Whereas actually, if you give yourself six months to detrain and not be so hyped up and emotional, you can transition more smoothly. You’re not going to change yourself in five minutes to become a new person.”
Additionally, US Rower Anne Martin believes that it is important for athletes to dedicate their skills and talents to other avenues that they are passionate about.
“If you were an elite athlete, you have certain characteristics you need an outlet for, like competition and learning and feedback,” Martin said in an Olympic interview. “I think what helped me was going to school, which was a lot of the same things, and then later into a career. Find something else you are passionate about and channel yourself into it—a career, nonprofit work, a different sport on the side.”
In an effort to remain connected with the sports industry, many athletes aim to go into coaching or broadcasting after their retirement. Many of the greatest coaches throughout soccer, basketball, baseball, and football were once some of the greatest players on the field. Coaching allows athletes to maintain a sense of belonging and connection to the sport they love and have dedicated so much of their lives to. It also allows them to continue the same quest that all athletes have, to win another championship. On the other hand, many athletes such as Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tony Romo opt to go into broadcasting instead. This allows them to continue to be immersed in the sports environment, constantly surrounded by their friends and fellow athletes, as well as maintain their role in the sport they love. Broadcasting is becoming an increasingly more popular post career job for athletes across all of the global sport’s networks.
While some athletes choose to stay within the industry, many others find it’s time to branch out away from sports. Some athletes go back to school in order to get a degree and begin working in more traditional fields such as business, medicine, writing, and more. Other athletes utilize and monetize their platform of national fame as a source of income. And finally, many athletes tend to create and operate their own philanthropic organizations during or after their careers. Every athlete tends to deal with the transition of retirement differently. Some of them struggle through this loss of identity, while others are more quickly able to redirect their lives. Regardless, retirement is a monumental moment in all athletes’ lives, marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new, oftentimes difficult chapter of life.