5 Things No One Tells You When You Retire from Competitive Sports
By Colette Harris
It's going to take a long time to figure out what you want to do next.
There’s no way around that. Even if you’re ready to retire. Even if you're excited about exploring college life. Even if you've landed your dream job outside of sports. You'll probably still be unsure of what life looks like without the vast majority of your time being taken up by training and competition.
I’ve found that whether you chose to retire from competitive sports or you were forced to retire due to injury or other circumstances, the transition is never easy. After all, many athletes spend their whole childhoods chasing a singular dream – the Olympics, an NCAA scholarship, or being named to a professional team.
But athletes can't compete forever. Eventually, they must move on. At first, nothing will feel quite right. It seems like nothing will replace your competitive sport. The truth is, nothing can. Not because there is nothing better in the world than being a competitive athlete, but because competing at an elite level is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can find something you like to do as much or more, but nothing replaces your sports experience exactly. And that's okay.
When I retired from competitive skating, I searched for a career that would “replace” skating. My skating career ended suddenly and it was hard for me to figure out what to do next. I wasn't prepared for the transition.
For anyone about to retire from competitive sports, keep these five things in mind:
You won't know what you want to do for a long time, but that’s okay. You’ve been there before.
Remember how you tried several sports and extracurricular activities before you decided to focus on your chosen one? You had to try lots of different activities to find the one that was right for you.
You’ll go through the same process when finding a new career after sports. You might have to try several different types of jobs, in several different industries, before you find the one that fits you.
I coached figure skating, interned at a magazine, worked as a career consultant, and produced ice shows before I realized that I wanted to be a full-time writer.
My point: It takes time and trying several different jobs to realize what’s best for you. Keep trying things out and observe what you like and don’t like about each job or career path. Eventually, you’ll figure out what to do next.
It takes awhile to reach the same level of success in your new career that you enjoyed in your sport
If you chose to dedicate most of your childhood to a specific sport, odds are you retired at a pretty high level. It’s normal to want to achieve that same level of success in your new career ASAP.
Remember how many years it took you to reach the highest level of your sport? You probably started playing soccer or learning gymnastics as a toddler and finished playing around the time you started college. If you look at it that way, it took over a decade to reach the level of success you recently enjoyed.
Don’t expect your second career to be any different. You’ll start at the bottom of any new industry you transition to. You have to learn the basics before you can take on more responsibilities in an organization. You have to walk before you can run. I think athletes have been running and achieving in their respective sports for so long, they forget what it’s like to learn how to crawl and walk first. Embrace the learning curve that comes along with starting a new career. Look at learning something new as a challenge, not a setback.
At first, it will be hard to find the motivation to exercise without a specific goal in mind
As an athlete you had incentive to exercise. You wanted to look and feel your best for competition day. When you don't have an event to prepare for, I think many athletes struggle with finding the motivation to workout. They wonder, If I'm not training for a specific goal, what's the point? That's something I hear a lot.
It takes awhile before you realize that working out simply to feel good and stay healthy is really the only incentive you need to hit the gym. Even though I don’t have specific events to train for anymore, I make time to exercise everyday. Why? Because it feels good to stay fit.
If you’re struggling with finding the motivation to workout, try working out with friends or signing up for a different type of competitive event, like a half-marathon or triathlon.
You'll mostly likely have to change how you eat
You’ll most likely have to change how you eat once you stop competing. I know this is a touchy subject for a lot of athletes and something I struggled with after I stopped competing. My weight fluctuated quite a bit after I stopped competing because I didn't know what or how much to eat now that I wasn't physically active four hours a day.
If you’re struggling with healthy eating after you stop competing, consult a physician, nutritionist, or dietitian. It’s important to take care of your body. These experts can help.
It won’t be easy to find a new circle of friends but, if you’re open, you’ll meet great people
The sports world is small and tight-knit. I met some of my closest friends through skating. Those close friendships remain, even as you all move on from your sport. However, new jobs will take teammates across the country, studying for graduate school entrance exams will take up time, and you won’t see each other as much as you used to. Finding another circle of friends away from sports can be challenging. It’s scary at first to meet new people. I know it was for me, but eventually you pull together a team of friends that you can’t imagine your life without.
You will find a new career path that inspires you
It might take time, but you will find a new career that is exciting and inspires you. You’ll never forget being an athlete. You’ll always hold memories of your sport close to your heart. It was your first love and dream after all. It’s normal to miss it every once in awhile, but realize that you can hold space in your heart for your first dream, while pursuing another one.
As an athlete you learned a lot about how to overcome setbacks, work through adversity, and follow through on your goals. Remember to turn those lessons learned on to the field into life outside the arena.