Like it or not, all sport careers eventually end. Age, injury, family decisions, or other factors will determine how your competitive athletic career will end or be adapted.
Like many athletes, especially elites, you may feel that the transition is abrupt. Your life and identity may revolve around sport. Your loss may cause emotional, financial, or personal challenges that you must cope with for non-sport life to move forward. However, this transitional period can still serve as an exciting step forward into the next stage of your life!
Abrupt changes (e.g., if you’re injured or cut from the team) can be harder to cope with than voluntary transitions. It’s common to question one’s identity without sport. You might wonder who your friends are, both inside and outside of sport. Leaning on significant others, family, and friends can help you cope with your loss. If able, you may also want to explore the route of keeping busy and continuing to train.
Be aware of some pitfalls when transitioning out of sport. Commonly, alcohol or drugs are used to escape pain, but cause more problems. Substance abuse, feelings of isolation and hopelessness, and other signs of mental health concerns should be taken seriously. Seek a qualified mental health practitioner. While anybody can benefit from therapy, don’t underestimate the power of simultaneously planning your future, venting emotions with friends, and seeking other social support.
Preparing for the End
Early in your sport career, you may have dedicated your life to sport. For some, that means education and career planning got put on hold. When your sport career ends, you may feel lost and financially insecure. Exploring many career routes outside of sport gives added security via a “back-up plan.” Meeting with financial advisors before and during your transition out of sport can also ease the transition. Returning to school to complete a degree is another viable route. If you are a student athlete, you can also set up meetings with your campus career center for job-related assistance. Lastly, some professional organizations such as the NFL and the US Olympic Committee have athlete assistance programs that you can take advantage of as you transition out of sport at the elite level.
Preemptively plan who you want to be outside of sport. Identify strategies to achieve this one step at a time, and seek support during the transition!