The roar of a crowd, notoriety and admiration, are often times part of a professional athletes daily life. The sensation of winning and the satisfaction that comes with intense training and preparation to conquer their opponent, are not easily replaced by corporate workplace duties or the luxuries of retirement. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard said, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring… there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.”
Lavallee & Grove (1997) identified that individuals with a high athletic identity at the time of retirement were more likely to experience a higher degree of emotional adjustment difficulties. Bill Cole, a world-renowned peak performance coach who has worked with many athletes who have struggled to come to terms with their retirement, noted that an important factor was this profound sense of loss in their lives that athletes may experience after putting their competing days behind them.
The comfort of routine around sports training can hinder an athlete’s ability to look beyond the present and plan for the future. Tunnel vision can leave athletes ill- prepared for the balanced perspective required for “real world” career opportunities. Athletes who have clear, mapped-out strategies on where to apply their focus have the greatest chance at long-term happiness and fulfillment outside of their sports career.
Bill Cole also noted the importance that biological factors may play in an athlete who is struggling in their retirement. Athletes have had regular doses of serotonin daily for many years, when this is suddenly decreased or stopped outright, we see a huge upset to the chemistry of the body. A causal link between an imbalance in serotonin levels and depression has been explored by a number of researchers, however, more research in retired athletes posits exploration.
There are a number of ways that athletes can help to reduce the chances of depression after retirement from sport, these include: