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The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport
The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport

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2.2 Career-ending injuries

One of the most challenging aspects of sport injury is when an injury is so severe that it leads to the end of an athlete’s sporting career. In these circumstances the athlete is often unprepared for this premature retirement. This is why programmes that prepare athletes for career transitions and life after sport, such as those you looked at in Session 3, are so important.

In the next activity you will explore the potential impact of career-ending injuries.

Activity 4 What next? The impact of career-ending injuries

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes

Read the BBC article linked below and then watch the video featuring rower Arielle Sanders.

Make a list of some of the feelings that Arielle Sanders and Victoria Vincent experienced in response to their career-ending injuries and the opportunities they took from the experience.

Victoria Vincent: Ex-GB diver on mental health effects after career-ending eye injury [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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Both athletes found their injuries and subsequent retirement difficult and described several negative responses such as depression and feelings of failure, embarrassment and devastation. Arielle found being part of a support group useful to help her communicate her feelings and get through her injury.

After retiring, Victoria channelled her energy into an alternative career and is training to become a doctor. She felt that the injury made her more empathetic and resilient and provided her with the opportunity to study hard for the grades she needed to get into medical school.

Arielle also changed direction and moved into a student–coach role which allowed her to continue to feel part of the team.

Social support provided by groups like the one Arielle spoke about has been shown to help people through sport injury. For example, in their study exploring the impact of career-ending injuries on three rugby union players, Arvinen-Barrow et al.(2017) (Box 1) found that social support was an effective strategy to help athletes cope with injury.

Box 1 Helping athletes cope with injury through social support

Research summary (Arvinen-Barrow et al., 2017)


Transitioning out of professional sport: the psychosocial impact of career-ending injuries among elite Irish rugby football union players.


Three rugby union players who had suffered a career-ending injury participated in a one-to-one interview about their injury and subsequent transition into retirement.


Sport injury and the transition into retirement was a distressing experience for all three players. They experienced feelings that included stress, loss, shock, sadness, and anger. Factors that helped them cope with injury and retirement included social support, pre-retirement planning and working with a sport psychologist (see sample quotes below):

[The coach was] a huge advocate of fellas keeping on studies and doing other things outside of rugby.

I was generally quite positive, I suppose, I attached myself to very positive, influential guys in the squad.

Career-ending injuries are just one cause of retirement. You will explore retirement from sport in more detail in Session 7 of this course.