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Athletes of necessity retire early and often require help adjusting to their new life
It is evident that anyone required to perform at a high level in sport or other physically demanding occupation has a limited number of years before demands made on the body begin to take their toll, sometimes accompanied by difficulties of a psychological nature. Although there may be a good deal of informal support from family, friends, and perhaps even other athletes who have retired, in some sports there remain few initiatives devised specifically for those approaching the end of an athletic career. The issues raised and observations made in this article are based on selected research studies and also interviews with an elite amateur swimmer and a professional footballer. The former regularly devoted upwards of 25 hours a week to training and competition. In most instances the elite amateur has somehow to organise sport around a job, often full time, or study for academic and professional qualifications.
True, a few sports endeavour to assist retiring athletes in looking to the future, but they tend to be variable in both extent and content. A few professional associations—for example, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain—operate as a catalyst to facilitate the transition process for their members, and both have proved successful in this endeavour. Some athletes make a seamless transition, whereas others struggle to adapt and are perhaps too proud to ask for help. After all, they may have been the focus of adulation for several years, and to realise that in the prime of life it is time to close the door on what you are best at is difficult to accept.
There are probably four principal reasons for an athlete leaving sport: personal choice, age, injury, and deselection. Only the …