One of the big stories from last night’s NBA draft was the seeing former Baylor star Isaiah Austin drafted by the league, a classy move coming just days after Austin was suddenly forced in to sport retirement because of a medical condition. Rather than seeing his dreams come true of one day playing in the NBA, Austin is now experiencing an unexpected and abrupt retirement and left to create a new, non-sports identity and life plans that will not include basketball.
Sport retirement is unique for a number of reasons, including the early onset (most athletes retire from elite-sports by their early to mid-twenties), and as was witnessed in the case of Austin unforeseen serious injuries always loom that can end a career in a moment. Think about that for a moment – Isaiah Austin just went from one of the nation’s best basketball players on the path to making millions of dollars to suddenly being forced out of the game, stripped of his basketball identity, and left to follow a new, non-sport career that will likely pay him but a mere fraction of what he would have made in the NBA.
What athletes miss the most while experiencing sport retirement varies from person to person. In some cases the loss of massive future financial earnings hurts the most, while other athletes struggle more with creating a new, non-athlete identity. Other, lesser known struggles for retiring athletes include finishing school, pursuing a new career, finding a new support system, or simply learning the life skills necessary to succeed in future life endeavors.
Athletes who are suddenly forced into retirement, like Austin, are also at-risk for burst stress, a unique type of stress that is experienced in a “0-100 mph” kind of way. When this occurs, it is not uncommon for otherwise normal, healthy athletes to turn to reckless behaviors (including drinking and drug use), and experience mood and anxiety issues.
Parents and coaches can use Austin’s unfortunate story to help kids understand that every athlete is just one play away from being forced to retire from sports. While this may not be a conversation young athletes welcome, it is prudent to have this discussion so that other life plans and goals beyond sports are developed for the future. Unlike other non-sport careers, athletes are always at-risk for losing their spot, getting cut, or having to retire because of medical reasons (like in the case of Isaiah Austin).
Check out The Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness in the Apple store today!