Why do athletes need help transitioning out of sport?
Retirement from professional sport is challenging. Stories of stars fallen on hard times appear frequently in the news. Research published by the world players’ union FIFPro in 2015 showed that depression and anxiety issues affect over one third of former footballers. It’s clear that there’s an ever-growing problem.
For professional athletes, sport doesn’t just provide financial rewards. They also stand to lose their status, feelings of entitlement, identity, camaraderie, routine, goals, social support, security, self-confidence and a feeling of being better than anyone else at what they do. The list is long.
How can athletes prepare for the transition?
We all want to have some control over our lives with the possibility to make our own free choices. After all, autonomy and self-determination are essential to our wellbeing. You may not be able to control your retirement – an injury or de-selection from a team may take that decision away from you – but you are in charge of how you prepare for life after sport. Don’t leave your future up to fate. Be proactive. In order to continue your growth and personal development, start planning the next phase of your life now.
What’s the first step in planning the next phase?
The better we know ourselves, the easier it is to find out what we want to do next. Insight into your personal values will enable you to regain a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It will help you take the right decisions, leading to life satisfaction and happiness.
What is really important in your life? Differentiate between what matters to you and what doesn’t. Let this knowledge influence your goals and act on them. Remember, if the going gets tough, you’re more likely to stay on track if you’re heading in a direction that is valuable to you, rather than one that is not personally meaningful.
What sort of support do athletes need?
Transition out of sport can be tough emotionally: feelings of despair, frustration, and anger are common. The right support network is critical.
Role models are important, so see if you can talk to someone who has been through a similar transition and succeeded. In addition to close family and friends, it is also important to have someone impartial to confide in when needed. And know when to seek out professional help – being able to ask for assistance is a sign of strength.
How does goal setting help?
In their sporting careers, athletes have always had a goal to work towards. Setting goals outside of sport is vital too. The period of transition out of sport may feel very uncomfortable. You don’t quite know what you are going to do, you feel out of your comfort zone, and your confidence may have taken a knock.
Setting goals is a proven, successful way to focus your mind, take control of your circumstances and help you anticipate setbacks. Moreover, achievement of goals reinforces your self-confidence and self-esteem. Pursuing meaningful goals, in line with your values, will help you develop as a person.
How can athletes learn to embrace change?
We all know that life has its ups and downs. Resilience is the ability to bounce back irrespective of what life throws at you. Athletes should try viewing setbacks as occasions to learn and remind themselves that out of difficult situations come new opportunities.
Be appreciative of life. At the end of each day, identify what went well for you. Be grateful for what you have. And quite simply, just quieting your mind through activities such as walking, gardening or meditating while taking time out to reflect on the small pleasures in life builds resilience.