The career of an athlete is fast-paced and short-lived. It requires dedication, consistency, maintaining busy schedules of training, competing, recovering, and in some cases dealing with the adulation that comes with being a public figure. This intense schedule generally begins when the athlete is 14-18 years old, and can last 10-15 years. But what happens to an athlete after retirement?
One would think that a retirement consisting of peak physical condition and a substantial sum of money would a desirable one. This is not always the case. A retired professional athlete can suffer both physical and psychological consequences including depression, long-term injuries and the struggle to begin an alternate career.
Why Athletes Retire
The main issues that prompt an athlete into retirement include injury, de-selection and expiration of eligibility. Injury is as unpredictable and treacherous as a car crash, striking at any time. Due to it’s unpredictability, additional problems to retirement planning generally arise. Sports commentators have estimated that as many as 35% of professional athletes retire early due to injury. De-selection arises when an athlete is suddenly dropped from a team or squad and is nearly as unpredictable as an injury. A decrease in performance or injury can prompt de-selection to occur. Expiration of eligibility is generally the most predictable and better-suited form of retirement. When an athlete has reached the end of his/her’s athletic ability and can see a difference in the strength of their body and performance, they will retire. This form of retirement allows for preferable retirement planning.
During the early stages of an athlete’s retirement, they may suffer from psychological issues such as depression. The rapid juxtaposition of lifestyle can come as a shock to many. Not only is the athlete deprived of their routine; their social and work networks are simultaneously diminished as they have merged into one. While the body is crying out for some rest and relaxation, within an athlete’s heart and mind they may be saying “one more time.” The loss of identity and passion can be brutal and has the potential for an athlete to attempt to recreate the intensity of what has been lost through drugs, drink and gambling. This has the biggest effect on athletes that play team sports and have been involved with a group of athletes for their entire adult life.
While a professional career in sport may place you in peak physical condition, this may only last 10 years and the intensity at which one pushes their body may result in repercussions. Four or five years down the track of retirement may see athletes suffering from joint problems, obesity and brain damage. Steve Devine, a 35-year-old former New Zealand rugby player was forced to retire due to repeated concussions. In the years following his retirement, Devine endured almost constant migraines, fatigue and bouts of depression.
It is proven that athletes who put in a bit of extra pre-thought and effort into their retirement will be more likely to avoid physical, psychological and economical damage. While athletes who depend on their career earnings to provide for their remaining life generally wind up in an undesirable economic situation, those who ensure another path of employment after retirement will greatly benefit. This will decrease the likelihood of depression therefore automatically improving one’s physical condition.
The best way to have a smooth transition into retirement is to be proactive during your playing days. When you are 25 and at the height of your athletic powers it can be hard to think about doing anything else but that is precisely the time to start thinking about what you will do when it ends. Even if you do some part time study, or volunteer somewhere for half a day a week it can make al the difference when it comes time to finish your career.
Jessica Josh is a professional freelancer who writes about health, diet and fitness related topics for companies such as Northshore Health and Fitness