When an athlete decides to retire from the professional ranks of the sport that he or she has likely played for most of their life the career transition to a life after the game can be one of the most difficult periods in their lives. Once out of the limelight, these athletes are often forgotten by the general public. Thanks to social media, they can still stay relevant, but often times it is not until a former professional athlete is established in his or her second career (in the broadcast booth, for example) that fans realize they have made the change. For the hundreds, even thousands, of athletes whose transitions after their playing careers are not in the public eye the transition is often overlooked.
A common misconception is that since these athletes made so much money during their playing days they do not need to find a second career. However, for the majority of athletes a second career is usually needed as their playing career is often just a mere fraction of their lives. While these athletes have the potential to make millions of dollars during their playing days, without proper guidance and preparation this money may not last nearly as long as expected. Given the average career length for athletes in the four major sports in North America (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB), which can be seen in the graphic below, the need for a second career is more common than you think.
Compared to the amount of time and work put into being in the small percentage of people who make it to the professional league of their respective sports, the average playing career is a relatively short period of their lives. Assuming that these careers start while the athlete is in his early 20s, the transition to a second career becomes very important. For many, the question of “what’s next?” enters their minds. This is often a difficult time period, as it hard to disassociate with the game they played for the majority of their lives. When training camp or preseason activities roll around, it is difficult for them to not be ramping up their training in preparing for the season ahead. Instead, they are not reporting to camp, which not only takes a physical toll, but a mental one also.
The Final Whistle polled dozens of recently retired or retiring athletes about their career transitions and found five common themes in career transitions that athletes are hesitant to admit.
Life After Sports is Tough
After associating with a specific sport for nearly an athlete’s entire life, it can be very difficult to one day realize that he or she is no longer competing in said sport. This is often a very difficult realization as all the training and preparation to compete at the highest level has come to an end and then you have to figure out what to do next. There must be some time devoted to rebuilding self-identity which is a daunting task. Luckily, our friends over at NexGoal found 10 tips to kickstart one’s personal brand development which can assist in this process.
The Transition Takes Time
Just as it took time for an athlete to develop the skills necessary to be at the top of his or her game, the transition to a second career also takes time. The Final Whistle estimates that a successful transition could take between two and three years, but an unsuccessful one could last a lifetime. It takes more time than thought because there are a variety of changes happening at once (career, financial, relationships, physical, mental, etc.). It is recommended that the transitioning athlete prioritize one or two of the aforementioned to speed the process.
The Transition is Expensive
This seems like an interesting point considering some professional athletes earned millions of dollars during their careers. However, salaries for professional sports differ greatly. For example, contracts in the MLB are fully guaranteed, whereas in the NFL, NBA and NHL they are not. The loss of earnings is evident, but in addition there are other aspects of life that could come as a surprise. These include health insurance, cost of continuing education, etc.
Life After Sports Takes Planning
The most important takeaway from this section is that athletes can begin to prepare for a career after sports while still competing as a professional. By preparing for a life after the game, you will be ready for the transition and it will be a smoother process. Some professional leagues and their respective player’s associations have career transition programs for athletes currently in the league. For example, the National Basketball Players Association has a program for both current and former players interested in a broadcasting career during the off-season called Sportscaster U. in partnership with Syracuse University.
It’s Easier Talking About It
By engaging in conversations with those around you and those who have gone through the career transition process themselves, there will be less unknown surrounding the situation. As mentioned, the most difficult thing about transitioning from playing career to retirement is the issue of self-identity. If you have always identified as a football player, but now you are not playing the game, this can be an extremely trying time. However, luckily for these athletes, there have been hundreds before you that have already gone through the process. While fierce competitors on the field of play, there is a familial bond among players in a league. Because of this, the resources are available when you are ready to begin your transition to life after the game.
Aside from the athletes who go from the spotlight on the field to the spotlight of the studio, an athlete’s transition from playing career to second career is kept relatively quiet. The difficulty of this period is usually unknown to fans and those who have not gone through it. With these five tips from The Final Whistle, an athlete’s career transition can be made easier, ensuring a worthwhile life away from the game.
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