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Stepping Off The Field: How To Handle Retirement From Sports & Competition

ByMyriam Glez

5 min read

Stepping Off The Field: How To Handle Retirement From Sports & Competition

You may have decided to end your career at the top of your game. Maybe your body started to break down and you had to retire. Or, perhaps it just happened to you and you didn’t have a choice: another competitor was better and you didn’t make the cut, or you suffered a career-ending injury.

Voluntarily or not, planned or not, whatever the reason, you got to the end of your sporting career. We all do. That’s it. Now what?

We have all asked ourselves this question at one point in life, and it can be very daunting. The good news is that there is a life after sports, and it can be as good and fulfilling as you want it to be. But this life doesn’t happen overnight and it requires some work and commitment—just like in sports. You cannot become an expert in another field without time, dedication and hard work.

It is important that you take the time to deal with your transition in order to move forward with  your life. And if you don’t do so and leave some things unfinished or un-dealt with, it will resurface later in life.

We have seen many athletes who didn’t take the time or wanted to break away completely from sports once it was over. But down the road, life events made these feelings resurface and all of a sudden they realize it was holding them back.

For example, if you retired because you being outperformed by your competitors, you may deal with low self-esteem and confidence years after your career is over. Or if you didn’t take the time to process your change of identity and to explore what you wanted to do, you may end up having to make a new career change five years after retirement.

Transitioning from sports is a multifaceted process and isn’t simply just getting a new job. You are a human being with complex emotions. Embarking on a new career doesn’t eliminate the psychological and physical changes you may experience throughout the transition.

Reading and learning about the transition before retiring can help better prepare for it. There is a lot of literature and materials available about athletic retirement as well as the process of change. You can find some information on the Athletes Soul website and/or on the website of your university, sport federation or league, etc. Discussing with former athletes who have already transitioned, reading testimonials or listening to podcasts can provide some interesting perspectives as well.

We also recommend you seek assistance from a professional who can serve as you neutral advisor, helping you set reasonable expectations, not rushing through the process and giving you perspective on your situation. Taking the time to try new things and enjoy new activities are also key elements to a smooth and successful transition.

Tips for a smooth transition

Every athlete’s situation is different. Your transition from sport will be unique and will depend on multiple factors:

How did your transition come about? Was is voluntary or not? Did you achieve your goal in sports? Are you satisfied with your career? Did you prepare for the transition? Did you pursue an academic career? Do you have a support network and assistance from friends and family? What is your financial situation? How did you associate with your sport? Was your whole identity linked to your sporting career?

Ideally you want to prepare for your transition well before your retirement. Psychologists agree that it should be a lifelong project initiated in childhood. But if you have not been able to prepare, all is not lost. With the help of professional coaches, sport psychologists, nutritionists, personal trainers, friends and family, you can make a smooth transition.

In addition, here are some tips from Athletes Soul to help you during your transition.

What to consider before retiring from sports:

  • Throughout your childhood and athletic career, develop interests and networks outside of sports and build a well-rounded community. Understand that your identity is not what you do, but the qualities and values you develop from these experiences that make you who you are.
  • A few years before retiring, invest more time in your preparation: explore interests outside of sports, grow your social network, participate in various events, find some internships or mingle with sponsors. How can you channel your skills as an athlete to new ventures? Also consider what drives and inspires you. Working with a team? Seeing results? Competition to get to the next level? Consider what may be a good fit for you moving forward.
  • Learn and familiarize yourself with the process of transition and ensure that your close friends and family also understand and know what to expect.
  • Continue your academic education so you have something to support you when you retire. Consider taking a job during your sporting career even if it is just during the off-season or in between seasons. Start saving money now to have time to figure things out when you finally decide to retire.

Things to think about after retirement from sports:

  • Be ready for the transition to take time and accept the need to grieve your former life. It is ok to be sad and sometimes depressed. Be patient and accepting through this journey.
  • Consider a deceleration plan especially in the areas of nutrition, exercise and sleep and establish good health habits straight away (for example, setting up a daily routine).
  • Create your own support group of people you feel comfortable speaking to and asking for help if needed: family, friends, mentors, former teammates or coaches.
  • Initiate work to explore and redefine your new role. Do not skip this, as finding purpose and aligning your future projects with your core values is the foundation to your next chapter of life.
  • Throughout the transition, consider working with professionals who can guide you: life coaches, psychologists, nutritionists, personal trainers, etc.
  • Don’t forget to explore techniques and practices to support your mental health, well-being and spirituality such as relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, writing a journal, going in nature, communion, etc.

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