Is there life after sports?

Hanold Associates LLC CEO, founder and managing partner Jason Hanold definitely knows what talent is. Since his job is to find the ideal candidate for his clients, Mr. Hanold always bases his parameters for choosing a potential future employee upon their strengths and their capabilities of adapting and enduring throughout a selection process. Since talent comes in many forms, it is plausible that sportsmen and sportswomen, for example, can adapt their talents for what lies ahead of their sports life and have a successful career. But, what do they plan on doing after retiring the sports life?

Michael Phelps, for instance, stated before the Rio Olympics — held in Brazil — that those would be his last Olympics competition. Although he had said the same thing before the London Olympics, he has said that this time he is retiring and putting aside his goggles. British biker Victoria Pendleton and Chinese diver Wu Minxia both decided they had already gotten to the time to hand over the baton to the upcoming generations. After years of sacrifice and absolute dedication, there seems to be a discrepancy as to what does a sportsman or sportswoman do once they have decided to end this journey: several have already planned something in advance, long before retiring, and several seem to embark themselves upon the unknown.

In the case of Michael Phelps and Victoria Pendleton the path seems to be much smoother since both were gold medalists at the Olympics — London and Rio —, thus, it is highly likely that both of them will be “exploited” by the media, which is obviously lucrative for both parties. Actually, Phelps has been already given international media coverage and sponsored several brands around the world.

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Image courtesy of Peter Burgess at Flickr.com

There are other scenarios where athletes are practically forced to retire, as their bodies can no longer take the burden of an international or domestic competition. British gymnast Beth Tweddle, for example, stated after the London Olympics that she would not participate in the latest edition of the Olympian contest, since her body would more likely be incapable of enduring four more years of training in order to be physically — and mentally — fit for the Rio Olympics 2016.

Other athletes face retirement unexpectedly, for example, those who suffer an ugly injury that forces them to stop competing and move forward with their lives. American and gold medalist gymnast Shawn Johnson had to resign herself with “just” four Olympic Medals since she had to forfeit the London Olympics due to a knee injury. Every athlete ends up facing the uneasy transition from the competition to the real life. Oftentimes athletes are not even prepared to go from this corner to the other since this process embodies a huge change for them: there is a saying that athletes die two times: the first death is going into retirement. Studies have proven that retired athletes are more likely to suffer from depression and other related mental health issues. They are also more prone to substance abuse, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies than the rest of the population.

British biker Bradley Wiggins have spoken out about how his father, former biking champion Garry Wiggins, went on to suffer from several mental health issues including depression, and went through a downward spiral after retiring which ended with his death in Australia while being an alcoholic. Sports psychologist Victor Thompson stated that many athletes retire without having achieved their goals and they feel that all the time invested in such endeavor was not worth it. Most of them feel that their only chance is gone.

Mr. Thompson has summarized this feeling by saying that many athletes actually feel that they are not that good, thus, they are always afraid to fail. It is oddly hard for them to realize what they have achieved throughout their careers, and even much harder to have a positive perspective of their achievements. They are their worst critics and victims of themselves.

After realizing that for most athletes the transition between sports and real life suggests a burden they are not prepared to carry, former athletes have created specialized groups that aim to make this change much easier. Sports psychologists are now more prepared to attend the increasing demand of athletes that somehow are lost in the wake of their future life.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and several other sports organizations have put together specialized programs that seek to help athletes with alternative careers once they retire. Coaching, studying and advising are amongst the most common activities ex-athletes end up doing. British athlete Kelly Holmes, who retired in 2005 after winning two gold medals at the Athens Olympics in 2000, created the DHK Legacy Trust Organization in order to help athletes who feel overwhelmed by the future.

Since athletes are strongly focused on their careers, sometimes they end up being addicted to them or, simply put, addicted to sports, which is why sometimes they try to come back from retirement. Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe retired in 2006 at the age of 23. He, however, tried to come back and classify for the London Olympics but was incapable to succeed.

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