“It is often said that a sports star will die twice, the first time at retirement” – Emma Vickers
If you have dedicated your whole life to sport, when it’s over it can be traumatic. The retired athlete begins to question – “Who am I without sport?”.
Elite athletes often make extreme personal sacrifices in order to train and compete. These could include financial sacrifices, moving away from home, homeschooling or forgoing friendly or romantic relationships. Often times, friends will just stop bothering to ask to hang out as the athlete is always training or busy. Sometimes upon retirement, it can seem like there’s nobody left in your life. The athlete might have had rigorous dietary restrictions and typically an alcohol ban. When retiring, it can seem easy to slip into the party lifestyle and do all the socialising you feel you were ‘robbed’ of.
Retired athletes can have a feeling of emptiness in their lives. The key thing is to create a new, regular routine that keeps the athlete occupied, and opens them up to new possibilities. In biological terms, athletes have experienced daily doses of serotonin while training. Without this serotonin release, the athlete can feel depressed.
Vickers states the following tips for retirement:
- Reduce your exclusive identification with your sporting role
- Expand your self-identity to other pursuits
- Discover interests and competences for other activities beyond sport
- Consider coaching or mentoring other athletes
- Encourage strong relationships with coaches, family, friends and managers who care about your personal growth
Personally, after retirement I was immediately relieved. I was proud of what I had finally achieved, and I felt ready to move on with my life. But, a few months after the initial high wore off, I started wondering what my next ‘thing’ would be. There is a void where gymnastics used to be. I put all my energy into my studies. I work more, I socialise more. But I still feel I have way too much free time on my hands and nothing to do with it.
Nothing will ever be the same as the elite sport lifestyle. I feel like I might never get obsessed by anything quite as much as I did with elite sport. But for me, that’s probably a good thing.