The Top 5 Reasons Why Athletes Struggle During Sport Retirement
The sport retirement transition is often a difficult experience for athletes, regardless of gender, sport type, or age. Sport retirement is inevitable for athletes, and often occurs at a relatively early age in life — something that is unique to athletes compared to others working in non-sport careers. During the sport retirement transition it is not uncommon for athletes to experience depression, anxiety, isolation, and confusion, making it a very important life experience to prepare for and understand.
The top 5 reasons why athletes struggle during sport retirement
The more we understand about the uniqueness of sport retirement, the better we can become at helping those who will experience sport retirement. This is important as most of us know someone who will eventually retire from sports — including our own kids. From my clinical experiences with athletes I have found the following 5 variables to be the most closely associated with sport retirement outcomes:
- The athletic identity. It is not uncommon for athletes to develop an “athletic identity” that is largely — if not exclusively — built around the role of “athlete.” What this means is that when answering the question “Who am I?’ the answer is often “athlete,” and when that identity is stripped from the individual it can be a difficult time re-defining the personal identity without sports.
- Misleading data. Too many young athletes are mislead in thinking that making it to the college and professional levels of sport is easier than the number suggest. With only about 5% of all high school student athletes moving on to college sports (and even fewer making it to pro sports), it’s important student athletes know the realities.
- Immediate termination. For the majority of people it’s relatively easy to plan for retirement, and to do so in responsible ways. For athletes, however, retirement often comes about suddenly and without much warning — as is the case in career-ending injuries and deselection.
- Lacking support system. Having a support system (people around you to help you cope with stress) is an important variable when it comes to wellness and healing. Unfortunately (and ironically) for athletes, their primary support system are teammates, the very same people they no longer see when they retire from sports.
- Foreclosed future plans. Many elite athletes foreclose on future plans that don’t include being a professional athlete, leaving them vulnerable and exposed when they experience sport retirement. Without having Plans B, C, and D, athletes experience confusion when figuring out personal identity and future plans beyond sports.
Not every athlete deals with a tough sport retirement transition, but many do. No longer are difficult transitions only limited to pro athletes, either, as we have witnessed increasingly more college and high school student athletes experience the same distress. It is for these reasons that parents and coaches pay close attention to warning signs of a difficult sport retirement transition, and learn how to help (check out Positive Transitions for Student Athletes here).