It can be difficult for professional athletes that are retiring from their sport to leave a successful sporting career behind and move on to a new life. The transition time can be one of confusion, lack of direction and purpose which can cause the retired athlete to feel down, anxious and some even suffer depression. After having a career that brought so much reward they now feel unfulfilled.
I have identified several factors that contribute to an athlete’s fall from the highs and glory of their sporting career into their so called after-life. For any individual it could be one or two of these factors or all of them contributing to their difficulties in transitioning to a new career. These factors include, but are not limited to:
1. A loss of significance.
Significance is recognised as a human need and can be lost when athletes finish playing sport. People will actively seek to fulfil their needs, either consciously or unconsciously and the significance can be relative to one (e.g. being significant in a relationship) or relative to many, (e.g. media attention). Whether to one or many, significance can be attained positively or negatively.
By being aware that significance is a real human need, retiring athletes can prepare and plan pro-actively to fulfil the need in positive and rewarding fashion.
2. A lack of new inspiring goals.
Athletes are commonly renowned for goal seeking and goal achievement. Goals are key to providing motivation and direction. It is not uncommon for athletes to forget to set new goals with the same dedication and commitment on retirement from sport. For some, retiring from sport is about ‘not playing sport’ rather than looking forward and toward what is next.
Set clear and specific goals to provide direction and motivation to a new and fulfilling career. Think short-term and long-term. I like to think small with short-term goals, in the beginning, to build the sense of achievement. Think big with long term goals – what does life look like in 5 or 10 years time, when anything is possible.
3. A loss of self-belief.
Henry Ford stated “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe your can’t, you’re right!” Successful athletes have a committed and persistent attitude to their goals because of a belief that they can do it. Sometimes, this self-belief does not translate easily to skills outside of sport. An athlete might believe that their talents and abilities are limited to the sports arena. Until they apply the same commitment and persistence to everything they desire to do, they will struggle to achieve the same level of success.
By deciding and committing to goals, and doing whatever it takes to achieve them, one can over-ride any limitations of self-belief. Working with a coach can also help to overcome any deep-seated negative beliefs that can hold individuals back in life.
4. Loss of support.
An athlete loses more than the activity of sport when they retire. They also lose team-mates, coaches and all those involved in helping the athlete to succeed. Who is there to support them now in a new career environment?
More and more people are realising the benefits of having a coach to help them achieve success in careers and life. It helps for retired athletes to pursue coaches and mentors to help them overcome the transition, direct them towards new goals and keep them on track.
5. Lack of new skills.
Athletes train almost daily on perfecting the skills and techniques required for their particular sport. Some skills, such as team-work and time-management, are transferrable to new areas, and there are likely to be new resources and skills required for their new career. It may take time, study, investment to develop these but it is necessary to not only achieve new success but to feel fulfilled in the new career. It is said that if you are not learning, then you are dying. An athlete can look at retirement from sport as a positive challenge to growing in new areas.
Commit to perpetual learning not only of new skills but upgrading of knowledge to keep up with a rapidly changing world.
6. Lack of a game plan.
Action needs to be taken for goals to be achieved and ideally a plan will determine what actions need to be taken and when. Many people do not plan and then wonder why they are not getting anywhere. Athletes are used to having a schedule to fit in all their training commitments as well as other aspects of their life.
Determine a weekly schedule that ensures everything needed in pursuit of a goal gets done. Putting intention into every day can ensure that one takes a step towards goals on a daily basis. Determine all other planning needs and seek help where needed. Business plans, project management plans and goal achievement plans may all help in moving steadily forward.
7. Strong identity with sport and the past.
A life committed to sport can result in a strong identification as an athlete or sportsperson. Rather than looking forward towards a new career, a retired athlete might find themselves looking to the past at how they were, and what they did achieve. Identity determines the behaviour of an individual and therefore their results.
An important key to re-creating success in a new career requires an individual to identify with their new role (eg business person) so that their beliefs, values and actions are all congruent to produce the results they want.
In summary, addressing these seven factors can help a retired athlete transition more easily and effectively. Athletes have the mindset to succeed and when they learn how to transfer this mindset to a whole new career, they claim new rewards and achieve new dreams and goals.
Seeking assistance, from a coach or through seminars, to overcome these factors will accelerate the transition. Those who are motivated to create a new fulfilling career and recreate an atmosphere for achievement can continue to lead a rich and fulfilling life.
Originally published Feb 27, 2009