By Niovie Constantinou, Contributor
Professional female athletes, just like male athletes, spend their career focusing on their sport, wholeheartedly committing to it from a very young age. The result can be that they rely excessively on their identities as sportspeople, revolving their whole life around that identity. When they later retire from sport, they may suffer a sense of loss and find it difficult to transition into their new lives. For this reason, there are a number of the programs seeking to assist athletes transition into a post-athlete life, such as the International Olympic Committee Athlete Career Education Program, which concentrates on directing retiring athletes towards education, finding a new career and developing life skills.
However, to ensure a truly successful and smooth transition, it is important that you start planning your life after sports well before you retire. To plan successfully, you need to think about all the different areas that will be impacted by your retirement; it is not only your career or physical ability but also your finances, emotional wellbeing and relationships.
Liz Ellis, Australia’s famous Netball captain recently gave an insight into the level of planning required for a positive transition; the steps she took to research and prepare for retirement gave her one of the smoothest and most enjoyable transitions. More specifically, she:
- Researched the physical effects of de-training, the impact this had on hormone production and consequently on her mood. She then went on to create a training plan to manage this.
- Booked holidays during her whole first year of transition, travelling to all the places she ever wanted to visit but could not because of sport.
- Allowed time to just be herself and switch off after finishing netball.
This goes to show that if you take control of how you will deal with life after sports, rather than go into freefall, it can actually be a rather enjoyable and creative time in your life. It can be a time to think about yourself, to make your own choices and spend your time and energy on what you are passionate about. So how do you go about planning your life after sports?
- In previous posts we discussed how an athlete must have in place a financial plan which will cater for the post retirement days. Being covered financially will give you the flexibility to experiment and explore your options.
- Start considering early on what you want to do when you retire; there are the obvious career transitions within the industry, such as a coach, sports administrator, team manager and so on. However, your options are not limited within the sports industry. For example, Australian tennis player Marija Mirkovic chose to study commerce after retiring from professional tennis at the age of 22 and is now an analyst at Citigroup. She actually found she handled exam pressure better at university because she “dealt with it day in, day out playing big matches on the world stage”. So, get creative, the world is your oyster!
- Now that we have established that you can do anything you want, it is time to think about your passions. What do you enjoy the most? What gives you a sense of purpose? It is important to take your time to think about your options to ensure that you will be spending your time in a way that fulfils you.
- Research your chosen career path, the opportunities within that industry, the required skill set and education. Think about how your own skills and experience can be transferred to your chosen role. Are you required to have any specific or technical skills that you currently don’t? Try to find out if there are any relevant courses that you can take. For example, EY’s Personal Performance Programme, set up to prepare athletes for life after sport, provides workshops and online education in business skills, employment and mindset development.
- Once you have thought about what you want to do and done your research, it is time to take action – take the steps necessary to enable you to have the post-career life that you envision.
Remember, having a goal is what pushes us down the path of success; goals are not exclusive to sport, the transition may be challenging, but, in Mia Hamm’s words “there are always new, grander challenges to confront, and a true winner will embrace each one”.