Dalton Myers | Athletes and preparing for retirement
Columnist and sports marketer Tanya Lee in her column 'When To Call It Quits' delved into some of the reasons athletes take longer to retire from sport. I agree with her that "all sports athletes should set lofty career goals, earn during the glory years, and secure lucrative investments to serve them well after the lights have been turned off".
I want to take that discussion further and add that the transition for professional athletes after they retire is sometimes a very difficult one for them and their families.
Athletes retire at different stages of their careers. This also depends on the particular discipline, and even the event in which they are participating. However, globally, many athletes do not properly plan for retirement. When I say plan, I am not just talking about financially but also psychologically and emotionally - just understanding that life will be different when they are no longer in the spotlight.
The transition can be difficult because there will be career changes, moving from a professional athlete to a different professional role such as coaching, mentoring, teaching, and entrepreneurship etc. Importantly, there will be adjustments in their relationships which they need to prepare for. Daily, we depend heavily on relationships for our personal development. For athletes, these may be relationships with teammates, coaches, medical personnel, back room staff as well as media. With retirement, the modus operandi will change with some of these persons, and the athlete would need to learn how to deal with this and still perform in his/her new role.
Some athletes need psychological, physical and emotional support because their brains now struggle to adjust to the newness of life. A new door is open, and they are not too sure if and how to step in or how to manage the unknown afterwards. This and the loss of identity within the sport realm is problematic as athletes now have to acknowledge that they are no longer in the spotlight, and their names no longer elicit that favourable response it once did.
Financially, it can become more expensive to maintain the same lifestyle. In some instances, clubs or organisations covered their expenses but on retirement, some of those benefits and perks may cease to exist. Some sponsors still fund athletes in ambassador roles while other athletes lose their earnings and in-kind benefits which came from endorsements, salaries, and sponsorship arrangements. Additionally, they must now pay for their own physical and medical well-being, and budget for such things as clothing, as well as expenses related to family, mortgage, loans and so on. They may want to get further qualifications in other managerial roles as agents and coaches. These all have a cost
So where do we go from here? We have to teach athletes that they can reach out to professionals for help. It is sometimes difficult for athletes, especially males, to ask for assistance because of the stigma associated with getting psychological or emotional help.
The Professional Football Australia (PFA) in their 2015 Report noted that:
- 45.2 per cent of players rated their transition as difficult to very difficult;
- 19.5 per cent experienced mental health and well-being problems;
- 1 in 5 reported chronic health problems caused by football;
- 18.8 per cent reported that football had negative financial impact on them; and
- 65.7% indicated that football commitments had a negative impact on their ability to study.
It would be interesting to see a similar report on Caribbean professional athletes. In the meantime, athletes need to be helped from the junior level, especially by their handlers and supported by the government. When they fall on hard times they can become a burden to their families and the state who will have to find ways to reincorporate them into society as well as take care of them through welfare programmes.
I know you are saying it is difficult to tell athletes this when they are out there potentially earning more than you do, but the truth is, you have to try or else the effect on them, their families and friends can be great. But then again, what do I know?
Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Send feedback to email@example.com.