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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

Coping with retirement from sport - why it can be a struggle and how to prevent it

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Retirement from sport sports psychology blog photo

You may have seen or heard the news today on the problems that athletes face after they retire from sport. Here’s a link to BBC website page the ‘State of Sport 2018: Half of retired sportspeople have concerns over mental and emotional wellbeing’ It’s well worth having a read of this webpage, as it gives a good insight into the athlete experience. As this is something that I’ve previously commented on in the media, I thought that I’d share some insights into why sportspeople experience problems after retiring from sport along with some tips on how to minimise problems in retirement.

Why do athletes struggle to cope with retirement from sports? Here are 10 reasons:

  1. They lose purpose – a reason to get up in the morning, to train for something, to eat better, to look after themselves

  2. They lose direction – they may no longer know where are they going with their life

  3. They lose camaraderie – the fun, good interactions and connections with teammates or training buddies

  4. They lose support – from the coaches, managers, physio… those that were part of their more formal support team

  5. They may be disappointed – many have go into retirement without ever achieving their goals in sport

  6. They may be shocked – many have retirement thrust upon them suddenly due to an injury or being dropped from a team, they didn’t see it coming, they didn’t want it

  7. They miss the highs – they don’t get the personal satisfaction from a good performance

  8. They miss the applause – they don’t get the praise or the feedback from supporters on how they are doing

  9. They miss the physical stimulation – the body becomes sluggish, less able, not what an athlete is used to

  10. They lose their identity – they are no longer that athlete, there is a hole in their identity – how they and others see them

How an athlete can minimise the chances of a difficult retirement from sports – 7 tips:

  1. Expect it – for the majority of athletes, they will retire from sport and have plenty of life left

  2. Plan your ‘work’ – what will you do when you retire? How will you pay the bills and be engaged in something work-like?

  3. Action your ‘work’ – start earlier than you think you need to, to prepare for what you’ll do next, as it may well take longer than you think to set things up

  4. Plan to be active – don’t let your fitness wither away, plan how you will remain somewhat fit and active – albeit at a lower level

  5. Grow your network – don’t become isolated, strengthen your connections with others inside and outside sport for life after sport

  6. Recognise your other parts – being a sports person is very important, but there are other roles or parts that you play – brother/sister, son/daughter, father/mother, friend…

  7. Be wary of the vices – be mindful of the temptation to chase highs through drink, drugs, gambling…

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with life after sport, then I can help. It’s the type of difficulty that a psychologist with clinical training, combined with an insight into sports, can help with. I’m a Clinical Sports Psychologist, and I still compete internationally. If you have a question, then do get in touch.

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