The Biggest Transition You'll Have to Make When You Retire
By Colette Harris
There are lots of adjustments to be made when you retire from competitive sports. You’re setting new career goals, you might relocate away from your training base, or you could head back to school. Whatever you decide, the only guarantee is that there will be change. A lot of it.
Regardless of what outward changes you make when you retire, eventually you’ll have to make the biggest change of all. You’ll have to shift how you personally identify yourself.
Competitive sports take up so much time, energy, and effort that when you’re competing it’s easy to fall into a pattern of focusing solely on your sport and what you need to do to become a successful athlete. When you’re competing at a high level, your sport becomes your job, your hobby, your workout, how you form friendships…sometimes it can seem like it fulfills all of your needs. When that happens, it’s really easy to think of you and your sport as one in the same and to make your sport your identity.
Add in hectic competition schedules and the pressure to succeed at each event and most athletes just don’t have the time to think about outside interests or what they’ll do when they’re no longer competitive athletes. And honestly, for better or worse, that kind of laser-like focus and dedication is often what’s needed to get to the top of any sport.
Despite all the craziness and stress surrounding you as an athlete, it’s important to set aside time to imagine what life will be like without your competitive sport in the future. When you can no longer identify as a gymnast, a basketball player, or a soccer star how will you define yourself? Don’t let the commitment to excelling in your sport take away from the time you need to learn who you are without your “athlete” label.
Eventually, all athletes aren’t competitive athletes anymore. We all become something else. When I first stopped skating, I remember wanting a new label as fast as possible. I wanted my new “label,” aka career path, to provide me with everything that skating did – physical fitness, creativity, friends, community, the challenge of constantly striving for more – but I quickly found that was an impossible task.
Until I was 18-years-old I had thought of myself as only one thing – a skater. I thought that label provided me with everything I needed and I desperately searched for one new label that could do the same for me now that I was retired. When I stepped away from athletics however, I learned just how limiting having one label can be.
As I became interested in more things outside of skating, I learned that one label –whether it is a sport or a job title – can’t possibly define all aspects of person. We are all too multi-faceted to be just one thing. There are Olympians who work full-time office jobs, teachers who train for marathons, and writers who are committed to practicing yoga (that’s me!).
With time away from skating, I’ve found that I love sports, but I also love to write. I love to do yoga, cook, and travel. I’m a wife, a daughter, and a friend. I have personal goals and professional goals. I’m not confined to only one of those labels.
As soon as I let go of the need to be defined by a single label – the athlete label – I started to find out who I really am. I wish I had understood this concept sooner, while I was still an athlete. I think it would have made shedding the “athlete” label much easier, because it would have meant that I was just letting go of one of one facet of myself instead of my entire sense of self.
When you have a few moments, write down everything you love to do outside of sports and all the roles you play in addition to being an athlete. Keep this list close and add to it as you discover more of your passions and interests. Make it a point to explore at least one interest every month and note the ones you’re most excited about.
That way, when you do retire and you drop the “competitive athlete” label, you won’t feel like you’re losing your identity because you’ll already know that you are so much more than just your sport.