Life after sport
“Should you think about what you are going to do after you retire from sport? What age do you plan to retire from sport? What if an injury makes you retire from sport? Will you feel sad, happy, upset, excited, anxious, or motivated when your athletic career is over?”
Those questions are real and many athletes simply are so focused on their sport – they neglect preparing for a career after sport or those important questions. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has produced several videos to deal with life after sport and this paper will briefly summarize that information.
In Charting your career after the Olympic Games, a USOC video hosted and narrated by sport psychologist Dr. Kirsten Peterson, several USA Olympians give their opinion, experience, and advice about how to deal with moving on after an Olympic Games. Two time soccer Olympian Julie Fowdy believes it is important “to have a post Olympic discussion with your team mates” while two time freestyle skiing Olympian Nikki Stone felt “no one wanted to talk to me” because of her success. Stone suggests it was hard after she won her Olympic Gold medal because many of her team mates did not win medals and did not want to celebrate her success – so she felt isolated. Fowdy, on the other hand, thought it was very comforting talking to her team likely because they all experienced the same out come. Three time rowing Olympian Norm Bellingham thinks it is important to “talk to athletes who have gone through the same experience as you because they may be feeling the same way you do“. All of these Olympians felt like communication was important after the Olympic Games due to the time spent training/preparing for the Olympics and post Olympic feelings they were going through i.e. happiness, sadness, emptiness, and a feeling of what should I do next. Athletes at the national, collegiate, and high school level may also need to embrace communication after competitions or careers to deal effectively with their emotions and the future.
Many athletes feel depressed if they have not achieved their Olympic goals or they feel sad if this is the end of their careers (even if they won a gold medal) likely because they do not know what the future brings. Kirsten Peterson, Ph. D, says “you should congratulate yourself, allow time to celebrate, analyze performance, and this is not the time to bury yourself with negative self talk” after competitions or a career. Two time weight lifting Olympian Wes Barnett stated “you may be depressed or sad after the Games and you have to move on and set new goals“. Three time triple jump Olympian Mike Connelly agrees with Barnett and said “you may be on the top of a mountain and to get to another mountain peak, you must first climb down the mountain you are on and set new goals to get to the next mountain peak” – suggesting athletes may have an emotional let down after the Olympics or an athletic career and setting new goals may inspire, motivate a positive emotional change. It may be important for all athletes, whatever their successes in sport, to think about, plan, and set new goals (about life after sport) before, during, and after their careers end/start because all athletic careers start and end.
Two time Olympic figure skater Paul Wylie moderated another USOC untitled video that dealt with professional careers after Olympic careers. This video was more of a Q & A presentation of three Olympians who told their personal stories to an audience of aspiring Olympians or newly retired Olympians. First up to speak was three time volleyball Olympian Scott Fortune who planned for his retirement early on in his Olympic career and said after the 1988 Games “there’s going to be an end to this one day“. Fortune made the 1992 and 1996 USA Olympic Volleyball teams and also began working as a bank teller after the 1988 Games. After the 1996 Games, Fortune began studying to become a Certified Financial Planner and for the Series 63 exam (an exam administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority entitling the holder to solicit orders for any type of security in a particular state) while he was playing professional volleyball in Europe. At the time of this video, Fortune was a capital manager for a major financial firm and said he “had 3 jobs in the financial industry prior to this job” indicating you may change jobs during your career similar to you changing and developing new skills/abilities in sport. Regarding a career after sport, he also said “you may need to start at the bottom to get your foot in the door” similar to the start of a sport career i.e. beginner, expert, master or junior national team, senior national team, Olympic team.
Two time Olympic freestyle skier Nikki Stone was also present in this video and talked about how long it took to cope with ending her Olympic career, transferring psychological skills learned from sport, and moving on. Stone said it took her 1.5 years to deal with the stress of retiring and during this time she figured out why she was competing – she liked being scared, the adrenaline rush of fear, or the competition stress created by competing. She was able to come up with that answer by asking questions like this: “Why do you love sport?, Why did you choose sport?”. Stone figured out being on stage and giving motivational speeches gave her the same feeling of being scared as competing at the Olympic Games or in any sport event. She also believes “being an Olympic athlete will open up a lot of doors for you” and you must “use what you’ve learned in sport and apply it to your next career” to stay in the room so to speak. Stone thinks “sport teaches you a lot of things” applicable to any career after sport. Analyzing what brought her to sport and using what she learned from sport appear to have helped Stone transition her Olympic career to a life after sport professional career.
The final speaker, two time Olympic ski jumper Mark Konopacke, transitioned his Olympic career by getting a college degree after his first Olympics and also working at an O-Job or the Olympic Job Opportunities Program which provides job assistance plus career counseling opportunities to Olympic level athletes. Konopacke said “you will start over in another career after sport and you should put energies from sport into the new career“. Understanding new careers (like new skills) take time to master and by using the energies from sport in a new career, you may set goals just like you did in sport to grow, develop, and have success.
Writing this paper as a coach and reflecting back to my sporting career as an athlete, I will now give you my experience for what it’s worth. During my athletic career, most of my thoughts focused on improving, becoming a world champion, and making the Olympic team. Really, this is what about 14 years of my life were concentrated on. Along the way, I went to college, coached in high school; college; and a youth club; was provided the opportunity to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center as a resident athlete, plus worked at USA Boxing and the Chicago Board of Trade. Those experiences showed me to attain success, I must must plan/work for success the same way for sport, life, and life after sport. At the end of my sporting career, it was not hard to ‘let go’ because I felt like I had done everything possible to attain my athletic goals, it was time to move on, and I had experience in the ‘real world’. I can relate to all of the Olympians above because spending a lot of time doing primarily one thing takes focus, planning, and action. And for me, those psychological skills were/are easily transferable to life and life after sport.
My experience coupled with the Olympians above suggests psychological skills learned from sport have carry-over value, are transferable, and if you took time to focus, plan, and take action to have a great sport career, you can transfer and carry-over these psychological skills for greatness in a life after sport career!
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