I always remember a conversation I had some years ago with a teacher colleague of mine about her medical retirement and how the worst thing was the loss of identity and status that she had experienced.
And so it is with sportspeople.
Sporting careers can often come to an abrupt end through injury, but regardless of this, due to the sheer physicality of their profession, retirement comes comparatively early be it as a result of injury or simply through the passage of time.
“If you aren’t an athlete, then who are you?” ~ Emma Vickers
Suddenly that strict focus and schedules they have adhered to all their lives are gone. There is no longer the need to train and prepare for that upcoming event. No longer surrounded by a team of coaches, their support system has gone, not to mention the loss of camaraderie and interaction with their fellow teammates or the adoration that comes from performing in front of cheering crowds.
Finding themselves without work and in an alien environment is extremely difficult – some may go on to become coaches or commentators, perhaps even motivational speakers, but this isn’t the case for everyone.
It’s therefore, no wonder that so many high profile sporting personalities have admitted to suffering from depression at the end of their sporting careers:
the Australian swimmer whose awards are almost too many to mention (not least his 5 gold Olympic medals) has spoken openly about his struggle.
Former British Olympian Gail Emms
made a public cry for help when she admitted she was unable to find a job and subsequently couldn’t pay the bills. She said at the time: “Why would someone employ me? I have a CV that reads ‘played professional badminton for 10 years’ and I have just turned 40 years old. I have no qualifications other than a sports science degree completed in 1998.”
It must be unimaginable in terms of self-esteem and pride to go from huge successes, recognition, and adoration to feelings of failure and incompetence. No wonder depression sets in. That thrill and exhilaration of playing the game they love can be a feeling that’s ultimately impossible to replicate or replace in other aspects of their life.
That is why it is so important to have a Plan B whilst still competing. Of course, this isn’t easy – with the hours and focus devoted to their sport there leaves little time for anything else…but if the choice is possible depression after the fact then surely it’s worth it?
The best piece of advice I ever received was about the importance of retiring TO something…rather than FROM something… and that’s exactly what I did!
Dare2change appealed to me because, although on first glance it may appear to have nothing to do with sport, look closely and you will see these words :-
teamwork, support, goal setting, winning mind set, mastering basic skills, practice, desire for success , fun, recognition, celebrate success, never quit
Recognise any of them?