Retirement can be one of the scariest times for professional athletes, but being armed with the right information can make the transition much easier. At some point, all athletes will have to come to terms with the end of their sports career, and they must find a way to shift to a new way of living. Here, we’ll discuss some of the biggest challenges faced by retiring athletes and what they can do to make the transition a smooth one.
Lack of Direction
Many pro athletes are accustomed to cultivating and maintaining intense focus to be the best in their sport. Those who have achieved success have mastered their sport thanks to a combination of raw talent, dedication, and discipline, but this can change when retirement comes. Since there’s no longer a game to win or a title to strive for, many retired athletes suffer from a lack of direction and feelings of aimlessness.
Before their retirement, athletes should seriously consider what careers they can realistically pursue after their professional days are over. Retirement planning is not just about money. It is about finding a fulfilling vocation that will also provide enough income. Planning should include measurable goals with definitive timelines designed to keep the retired athlete on track and give them something to strive for. Having measurable goals is also important in combating depression and lack of focus.
A Sense of Loss
Another common feeling among retired athletes is a sense of loss. When a person is used to being recognized for his or her physical achievements, it can be difficult to adjust to life without this. Similarly, retired athletes often feel a sense of loss because the sport they played is synonymous with who they are as a person. Their identity is wrapped up in the game.
Many retired athletes have expressed dissatisfaction once they leave their sport, regardless of their wealth or how famous they have become. This may stem from going from a leading role to a place outside the spotlight.
Although retirement is not easy, it’s something that every athlete knows is on the horizon. For this reason, it can help athletes to talk to someone—such as a mentor, counselor, coach, or currently retired athletes—about their apprehensions related to retirement and to acknowledge their emotions about leaving the sport.
Changes in Financial Circumstances
When talking about retired athletes, there’s the stereotype of the famous athlete who lived lavishly during the height of his or her success only to go broke shortly after leaving the game. To everyday people, it may seem nearly impossible to spend millions so quickly, but between bad investments, careless mistakes, and poor financial planning, some athletes find themselves completely broke within a few short years.
For superstar athletes who have had long careers in the public eye, such as Michael Jordan or Peyton Manning, retirement can be easier, because the income opportunities abound. From endorsement deals to network television appearances, transitioning to retirement is decidedly easier for athletes who were bonafide stars at the height of their careers.
For lesser-known athletes, solid financial planning both during their career and in retirement is essential. Early in their career, athletes need to understand that although it might seem like they’ll never have to worry about money again, it is still prudent to save and invest. Drawing up a financial plan with the assistance of a professional financial advisor is critical. On retirement, the plan can be adjusted for any decreases in income.
Finding a New Passion
While some athletes find it hard to figure out what they want to do after retirement, others have hobbies and passions they are eager to explore. Still others have found success in pursuing careers that are still sports-related, but do not present the same physical demands as playing. From sports commentators to coaches to agents, ex-athletes have a range of opportunities waiting for them, although some positions may require returning to school to complete a degree.
One challenge that is often overlooked by athletes as they enter retirement is their health. After years of intense physical demands on their body, many retired athletes are left with a variety of health issues. Many former athletes face mobility issues as well as neurological conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which occurs in some athletes who have suffered multiple head injuries in contact sports like football, hockey, and boxing.
In addition to their physical health, retired athletes should also be concerned with their mental health as well. Since their former occupations were based on their physical prowess and level of conditioning, finding value in what they do after they retire is critical.
In most cases, when athletes retire, they are given few, if any, resources to help them make a smooth transition. A small percentage of these individuals have a great plan in place and a support network that will help them execute it. This support is key, and some professional sports organizations are leading the way by reaching out to athletes as they transition off the playing field.
One example of a sports organization that supports retired athletes is the NFL’s Player Engagement division. The organization provides a variety of resources to both current and former players in order to facilitate their transition into retirement. Additionally, the Player Engagement division has formed a partnership with a variety of business schools to create the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, which is intended to help athletes find a successful career in the business world.
Athletes who are not at retirement age should proactively consider what they will do once they reach this point, as well as network with other athletes for moral support and advice. By getting the necessary support from their league, their peers, and family and friends, and by finding a rewarding vocation for the next chapter in life, retired athletes can make their retirement a successful one.