Life After Sport – Coping With Retirement
Retirement before 40 or even 30 years of age. It's a dream for many but a harsh reality for most athletes. The body and mind can only go so far in a sporting career and once o  ver, the athlete is faced with a new challenge. What to do now? The reason for retirement can be a natural end to a long and gratifying career or it may be premature with the athlete forced out through injury, de-selection or financial reasons. Whatever the reason, there is a transition the athlete needs to go through to adjust to a new way of life. It took me three times to finally retire from sport. The first time I retired was because I had reached my goal of playing in the Olympics and thought there was nothing left to do in the sport. The second time I retired was because I thought I was getting old (37 y.o) and I should take care of my back (screws had held it together since '92). I kept going to the sport because it was what I loved and was good at. When I retired the third time, at age 41, it was for the right reasons - I had a new passion and new goals to finally convince me to put away the competition swimsuit for good. Each athlete will have their own reasons for retiring, returning or even staying in sport. I think it's important for an individual to wisely consider their motivation for either - is it positive and towards something they want to do, or is it motivated by pain, moving away from an undesired situation eg lack of success outside of sport. Having a positive direction to move towards is inevitably a more empowering motivation that produces results. Self-esteem issues can contribute to the difficulties faced. A sporting career produces many regular rewards and feedback that are not found in everyday non-sporting life. When I first researched this after my own retirement in 2000 from Beach Volleyball, I interviewed several athletes in Western Australia, where I was based at the time. A fellow retired player reflected that she missed "the everyday commitment, improving on things and the constant reminder creating this positive driving force" Many athletes agree that having a new goal or focus makes the transition easier. Confusion with both the decision to retire and with what to do next impedes the process. The circumstances of the individual determine the response to retirement. Everybody seems to go through a state of confusion and need to accept that as necessary part of the process. Even those who are prepared still hit a slump. The transition does not happen quickly, and this can come as a shock to athletes, and they may need coaching through the process. The uncertainty of the future is sometimes compounded by the athlete's apparent lack of relevant qualification and work experience. However, it is important to realise that here are many qualities and skills gained from being involved in sport at a high professional level. These need to be recognized and then 'sold' to a potential employer. Retiring because of injury creates more issues to deal with and prolongs the process. Many may persist in looking back to the past, and thinking of opportunities missed and thinking "I could have..." Missing out on selection in a major team can also create problems. Some athletes may delay retirement in this case in order to fulfil dreams, but instead leading to further heartache. Support is essential in moving forward. This support may come from family and friends, or it may come from professional help -counselling, career guidance or even a coach. Athletes are used to having coaches in their sport so why not continue to have a coach in life to help keep them on track, motivated and working towards new goals. Besides having new goals and a coach, I believe the important key to successful transition is identity. When I learnt more about the mindset I realised that my identity was wrapped in being a sportsperson and as long as that remained, I always floated back to my sport. Once I learnt to identify myself as something new - a business person and entrepreneur, it was easy to change my actions, my results and therefore my life. What new identity can the athlete take on to ensure success along a new pathway?

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