Several times at this years London Olympics I’ve heard stories about athletes who are terminating their athletic careers. Olympian’s spend a lot of time training. It takes a lot of time and energy. It also takes a lot of time and energy away from other things in life: family, friends, social life, other life passions, school, work, etc. When the Olympics are over for these athletes how will they transition into their life? Many of them may struggle with termination. This is not an uncommon issue among athletes or other elite performers.
Career termination distress
Termination of an athletes career may provide some distress. Adjustment difficulties, occupational/financial problems, family/social problems, body image, & alcohol/substance abuse are the negative factors related to adaptation to termination. Transitioning back into the athletes family, friends and social life can provide a lot of anxiety. Body image, is particularly challenging for women, because many women struggle with a career fluctuation in weight. Alcohol/substance abuse is always a consideration when dealing with a situation where something is missing or a person needs an escape where otherwise healthy alternatives are not available. Depression is sometimes present. Particularly for athletes who are uncertain about the next phase of their lives.
Intervention for career termination distress
An athlete should try not to be enmeshed in sports. It’s important for an athlete to recognize that the sport is not the only important thing in her/his life. It’s always important to have a healthy balance. And it’s important for coaches, personal trainers and sports psychologists to emphasize and work with their athletes to achieve this. Unfortunately this does not happen as often as it should.
When this doesn’t happen, the athlete is left with several important things to deal with and all at once: cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social and physical issues.
- Cognitive-i.e. the ability to think about and come up with options for another career.
- Emotional-i.e. dealing with the loss of an athletic career, the fear of what’s next and the confidence to do something else.
- Behavioral-i.e. dealing with everyday life.
- Social-i.e. having friends, finding new friends and becoming reacquainted with old friends.
- Physical-how to remain physically active but deal with not being as physically active as they have been while involved in their sports career.
There is a continuum and an array of issues when dealing with career termination for athletes. These will look very different among athletes.
If you are an Olympic athlete terminating your athletic career I suggest some support from me or someone else who knows how to help you deal with the challenges associated with this kind of life change.
Photo credit: vanityfair.com