While it might seem funny to talk to your young athlete about sport retirement, the reality is that most kids will see their sports careers terminate by the end of high school. Studies show that roughly 95% of all kids who play sports will experience sport retirement by high school graduation, if not much sooner.
Once only viewed as an issue for pro and college athletes, kids of all ages, sport type, and skill level now experience similar psychological issues during sport retirement, including depression, anxiety, frustration, anger, and despair. Ironically, even though it’s widely known that most kids won’t compete beyond high school, the vast majority of kids (and their parents) typically don’t plan for sport retirement, and many experience it as a surprise when it does occur.
Why kids are unprepared
We now have a generation of kids who have grown up specializing in one sport, competing in sports year-round, and compete in high-intensity travel leagues. What this means is that many kids today develop an exclusive athletic identity because of their involvement in sports, leaving them vulnerable for the day where they are forced to delete this identity from their overall persona. Without any formal preparation training offered in school, sport retirement is often experienced as an atypical life transition with little support to help cope with the stress of being forced to suddenly let go.
Mental and practical concerns
Mentally, many kids deal with loss of identity, role confusion, low career maturity, and poor future planning when experiencing sport retirement. Practically speaking, student athletes spend so much time with their sport growing up that they are left unprepared beyond sports, having not spent any time working, being involved in clubs and activities, or picking up other practical life experiences. As you might imagine, some kids feel left very far behind their peers when they realize their life experiences have almost exclusive been around sports.
It’s understandable why kids don’t prepare for sport retirement, but it is a significant transition not to be ignored. By understanding the realities and preparing for the inevitable, kids can actually use the sport experience to better themselves rather than causing them distress when they stop playing. Parents and coaches can help by discussing the realities, offering support, and helping kids identify (and use) athletic transferable skills for lifelong success.
For more help on this subject check out Positive Transitions for Student Athletes here.