How athletes such as Eamon Sullivan cope with retirement As the Commonwealth Games enters its last days, Australian sprinter John Steffenson announced he’s hanging up the spikes after the tournament is over, and diver Matthew Mitcham hinted at retiring too.
They now move into “retirement” from competitive sport. So how can they make sure the transition is an easy – and healthy – one?
As a result this may potentially affect their wellbeing. In addition, athlete involuntary retirement can elicit psychological and emotional difficulties including:
- decreased self-confidence
- more frequent feelings of anger, anxiety and depression
- substance abuse.
So how can elite athletes keep themselves psychologically healthy after their competition days are over?
Sustaining a sense of self
For 10 years, my day ran in this format. Many asked why I did it. My response was simple – I loved the sport and the social network that the sport provided.
But for those who have been the best or near the top of their field for decades, a transition can provide an opportunity for psychological growth as well as a danger for psychological deterioration.
While an athlete’s dedication to sport often leads to a strong athletic identity, which can have positive and negative consequences, they also risk experiencing difficulties after their sports career
Assisting athletes cope with career transition is one of the most commonly encountered issues for applied sport psychologists and the quality of adaptation to post sport life is significantly determined by an athlete’s degree of voluntariness.
Coping and in control
Reasons for career termination appear to play a significant role for adjustment to post-career life.
The perception of control fosters mental health, successful development and heightens feelings of self-efficacy.
Recently it’s been shown that better educated athletes have more professional knowledge and more occupational opportunities, so experience fewer occupation-related difficulties during their post-sports career life.
It is also important to assist athletes with interventions that provide subjective control over the retirement process.