‘Retirement Identity Crisis’ – it’s a real thing, and when it happens it can be an all-consuming experience. Most of us work for many years before making the decision to retire, be it through age, relocation or various other reasons. For the most part, retirees have become very much attached to their working role – a career, in which they’ve immersed so much of themselves and for athletes, it’s this exact reason why identity crisis is so ubiquitous when they eventually move on from sport.
The glory days end short for most athletes, as they find themselves retiring young, with still so much of their lives ahead. Retiring from athleticism is no easy feat. It means walking away from many years of serious strength training, body conditioning and game-playing. It’s a farewell bid to roaring crowds, the cheers from dedicated fans and statements of affirmations from coaches and team players. For elite athletes, retirement does not usually reflect the end of work. However, athlete retirement is much more than a career switch, it’s a complete lifestyle change, and it certainly takes an incredible amount of adjustment when the time comes to move on. In hand with this young-age retirement, athletes almost always begin their sporting journey in their earliest years. Showing an interest for their chosen sport, often before the age of ten – these elite, high-performance athletes will have spent many, many years honing their sporting skills and athletic abilities while juggling the everyday demands of regular schooling and home life. This passionate commitment will stay with them, as they progress through their many athletic accomplishments. Along the way, they’ll have fallen in love with their sport, and by the time they reach the most pinnacle point of their careers – it would seem their practiced sport has become their entire identity. Like other celebrities and individuals who spend much of their time in the public eye, open discussion forms, thirsty journalism and social media can all play part in creating an intense amount of pressure on athletes and sports professionals. As such, they spend much of their careers riding out the rollercoaster highs and lows of praise and criticism, wins and losses as they battle to perform well under the scrutiny of crowds and watchful eyes. The demands and constraints of an athletic career will often mean that elite, high-performance athletes rarely take the moments to consider who they are beyond their sport.
When it’s time to retire, each athlete will be left with the existential question: “Who am I, if not my sport?” and each, will have a different answer. What’s most important here, is to know the more effort that’s made prior to retirement, to consider life after retirement – the easier this question will be to answer. Athletes are always more than ‘just’ sportspeople and athletic figureheads but sometimes, it’s a forgotten fact even for the athletes themselves. There are imperative benefits for the athlete who will attempt to think about life beyond sport, recognising their other personal traits and characteristics outside of their athletic performance. Taking time to practice regular self-care strategies, alongside taking brief moments to explore other talents, hobbies and interests are all great ways to ensure an athlete is not left feeling completely lost following retirement. For many athletes, a sense of true belonging and being may be felt from family ties and experiences of parenthood. For others, it may be the potential to return to academic studies and the opportunity to achieve something they had to once sacrifice, in place for sporting success. For all athletes, retirement will jumpstart the journey to self-discovery and rediscovering of who they really are. At Athlete Career Transition, we don’t focus our work entirely around retired athletes. We go beyond this stage, offering our transitional support programs to those who are still competitively playing and performing. We understand the importance of being prepared for retirement and how that mental preparation ahead of that final game or last sporting triumph, can help make the transition easier. ‘Retirement Identity Crisis’ does happen, we can’t ignore that fact, but with the right support and infrastructure in place, leaving the playing field can be a truly rewarding and positive experience.