Every athlete faces similar challenges as they move out of high performance sport. Many sports have particular traits that can help and others that can challenge an athlete during this transition. Taking a good look at the sport that you committed yourself to excelling in can help you understand some of your unique retirement characteristics.
One dimensional sports Many sports are highly specialized in a single dimension. This means your skills may not be put to use in a variety of other areas in life. Some may be done recreationally while others don’t exist in an adult recreational way. Examples are swimming, gymnastics, rowing, luge and skeleton. This can be challenging as you move from being an expert in one of these sports, to a complete beginner in another activity. These sports also witness abrupt retirements; think of a freestyle aerialist – they stop the moment they decide to retire. The lack of a social outlet for the sport or community league can make these sports more difficult for athletes to leave without some hurdles.
Sports that possess a lot of crossover to other sports can make it easier for an athlete to use his or her physical skills somewhere else. Many of the ball sports (basketball, volleyball, handball, soccer) use other sports as cross-training and allow an easy transition from one to another.
Being able to revisit a sport at a recreational level can help with transition from high performance. Many sports are played in community leagues and allow retired high performance athletes the opportunity to use their skills and simply enjoy the game. Sports that cannot be revisited at a recreational level can cause more challenges for the transitioning athlete.
Be forewarned that some high performance athletes become frustrated when they begin playing their sport at a recreational level. This results from two key factors: high performance athletes are critical and are always seeking to be better, and the constant comparison to the level at which they used to perform. Overcoming this takes time and the realization that you can have fun and gain other things from sport (like social interaction). Many athletes find they take time away completely from their previous sport immediately after retirement.
The obligation to train hard is embedded within athletes. Accept that whatever sport or activity you take up after retiring is not your primary purpose in life. It is ok to take a day or week off, to have a bad day, to have no performance goals and most importantly, to not feel guilty about doing it.
Athletes who come from winter sports have usually had to delay their education due to training and competition schedules as it is difficult to attend school while on the road. Athletes may feel much further behind their peers because of this. The system is becoming more flexible with the development of sport schools and correspondence study, which will help athletes be better prepared at the end of their athletic careers.
Winter sport has different demands on athletes and those who have reached the top level in these sports have usually learned valuable skills in networking, sponsor relations, self-marketing and promotion. These are skills that can only be learned from experience and many winter athletes find their careers develop from this aspect of their competitive life.
The Hero to Zero issue
Remember that you have spent years gaining the talent and recognition in your sport. Upon retirement, you will likely be stepping into a field where your notoriety is minimal and others have spent years honing their skills. Not everybody follows your sport or even has the same passion for sport so you may be just like any other person applying for a job. Your name may get you an interview, but that’s usually all. Even if you stay within the sport, you will need to continue to develop the required skills to be considered a “hero” in your new position. Realize that you are changing careers and that necessitates not starting at the top.