By Lazaros Ioannou, APC Sports Consulting Limited
Out of the 10.500 athletes that competed in the 2016 Olympics, a mere few hundred received a medal; even fewer are those who received substantial sponsorships which can support them financially after their retirement from sport. For most of the Olympic athletes, life after the Olympics means joining the workforce like everyone else. The case with Olympic athletes is that most of them receive very little funding throughout their career; life changing sponsorships are rare amongst Olympians, therefore they have to prepare for and find a job to financially support themselves when they retire from sports.
A difficult moment for Olympic Athletes is when the lights go out and they find themselves navigating through uncharted waters into an uncertain future. The transition to a less structured life, can be a shock to most athletes. Most of them have trained and devoted their selves to their sport for years. Their only goal was to achieve being at the Olympics and being an athlete was all they knew; transitioning away from training and competing, can be very daunting. They suddenly have to step away from a very structured routine and are forced to adapt to a completely new lifestyle.
Another issue that is highly relevant in transitioning from sporting life to a professional life, is the lack of immediate feedback. When training for the Olympics, an athlete’s efforts are constantly recognized. It’s clear what must be done each day to move closer to the ultimate goal, dates of competitions are known, speed, height, force, and distance are carefully measured and compared with yesterday’s results. The world outside of sports does not often grant this degree of goal clarity and immediate feedback. In most jobs, feedback on performance may take months or even years. Moving from a career that closely tracks and monitors performance to a more relaxed environment may sound nice, but it can create an initial sense of confusion for the athlete.
After the end of the Olympic games, many athletes suffer from the so-called post-Olympic depression. Being at the Olympics is the most important milestone of their life and when they are done, it is normal to feel down due to a loss of purpose along with the struggle to define their worth outside of sport. There are many cases where athletes find themselves in such a loss which eventually develops into clinical depression. The first and most important action, in this case, is to acknowledge it and seek professional help. It is definitely not an easy process, especially for Olympic Athletes who have trained all their lives to push through difficult situations.
The key in dealing with and preventing post-Olympic depression, is the readiness of the athlete to build his/her identity off the playing field. The most prepared the athlete is, the less possible it is for them to deal with these major psychological setbacks.
Many Olympic Athletes retire at a very young age; the average gymnastics athlete retires at the age of 23. Therefore, there is plenty of time for such athletes to continue their education after retiring by enrolling in a university program. Also, some obvious choices which allow Olympic Athletes to capitalize on their existing skills and fame include coaching and public speaking. However, the opportunities for high paying coaching jobs are limited. Speaking engagements, while they may initially appear to be lucrative, they can dry up over the years because event organizers tend to focus on more recent medalists.
Olympic Athletes, have to take advantage of the trades that they gained from sport and use them in their life after sports. There are many companies that are keen to hire a person who was an Olympic Athlete instead of another equal candidate because of the special characteristics the athlete has developed through his/her sport career; Olympic Athletes are considered to be competitive, to have stamina, to learn from their mistakes, to be team players, to be hard workers, to react well to failure and many more.
Life after sports for Olympic Athletes can be difficult and full of challenges. Olympic Athletes need to discover who they are outside of sport, and through proper planning, preparation and thinking must find the post sports career which will make them happy and which aligns with their dreams and goals. If you need any advice in designing your life after sport you can get in touch with us at [email protected].