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

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2 Why do athletes retire?

This might seem like a relatively obvious question with obvious answers, but before you try and understand the psychological impact of retirement you need to appreciate the different reasons why athletes retire. Research in 2005 by Levy et al. concluded that there were four causes of retirement. These are illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Causes of retirement: age, injury, deselection, free choice.
Figure 2 Causes of retirement (adapted from Levy et al., 2005)

You will have noticed from Figure 2 that these categories are quite broad. But are there any other reasons that an athlete might retire? You will look at this in the next activity.

Activity 2 Why do athletes retire?

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Levy et al. (2005) presented four potential causes of retirement but there are actually many more. Make a list of some of the reasons you think might cause an athlete to retire.


While Levy et al.’s (2005) causes of retirement do present the four key areas, they do not cover all possibilities. For example, where would you place a local league cricketer who retires because he’s got three young children and can’t afford to spend his whole weekend on the cricket pitch? Likewise, when considering the distinction between chosen or forced retirement, where would you place the athlete who still loves the sport but retires because they are experiencing an age related decline in performance?

There are many reasons why an athlete may choose to retire from sport regardless of the level that they perform at. Below are a few examples, although you may well have come up with others:

  • want to retire at the top of their game
  • have achieved all their goals
  • want to escape the pressure of training and competition
  • no longer get a ‘buzz’ from the sport
  • want to focus on other aspects of their life, e.g. family, work, new avenues
  • want to start a family
  • realise they no longer have the drive and passion they once had
  • realise they are unable to achieve their goals.

One or more of these many causes of retirement highlighted in Activity 2 will be experienced in a unique way by every athlete and each carries with them a range of physical, social and psychological challenges. It is the impact of retirement that you will look at in the next section.