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

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1 The reality of retirement

The physical nature of sport means that in contrast to other careers an athlete’s retirement tends to occur at a relatively early age. According to Wylleman and Reints (2010), athletes generally retire around the age of 34 (although this can be much younger in some sports such as gymnastics).

To learn more about the reality of retirement, in this first activity you will hear from several retired athletes about their experiences.

Activity 1 How do champions experience retirement?

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Watch the video below from the start until 05:20. In the video you will hear from several retired elite athletes who discuss their experiences of retirement from sport. As you watch, focus on the stories of two of the athletes Lauren Jackson and Barry Hall and then answer the following questions:

  1. What were some of the main emotions and reactions that the athletes experienced when confronted with retirement?
  2. What did the athletes attribute these reactions to?
  3. Were there different reactions between those who chose to retire and those who were forced to?
  4. Ultimately, how did each athlete come to terms with their retirement?
Video 1
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


  1. Both Lauren and Barry described a range of quite negative emotions related to their retirement. Lauren remembered it as a time when she cried a lot and even when recounting certain experiences, it is clear she still finds it hard to talk about. Barry admitted to feeling no motivation and isolated, which led to him drinking heavily. In Barry’s case this resulted in him developing feelings associated with depression and several other negative mental health issues.
  2. You probably noticed when listening to both stories the feelings of loss both athletes experienced as they didn’t have anything else in their lives. This loss is closely linked to athletic identity (as you saw in Session 2) and it is the loss of this athletic self that underpins many of the negative emotions experienced during this transitional period.
  3. You may have assumed that those who make a conscious decision to retire and therefore have control over it would experience a more positive retirement from sport. However, as the video highlights, regardless of the control athletes have over their decision, it may not ultimately influence whether retirement is positive or negative.
  4. Both athletes found a way out of their negative mental states and several different coping mechanisms were discussed. Lauren is a good example of someone who suddenly had a different focus when she found out she was pregnant. For Barry, like other athletes, he realised the importance of having structure and he started to set goals in his life as he had previously done in sport.

The stories of Lauren and Barry are not unique but illustrate very clearly why this final transition is often the one to receive most attention. As you move on through the session you will explore some of the points discussed in Activity 1 but also learn more about the impact of retirement. First, however, you will look in more detail at why athletes retire.