The Transition to Life After Sport
Transition, or change, is oftentimes plagued with the emotions of fear, uncertainty, and confusion, to name a few. The impact of transitioning on athletes has been heavily overlooked. Transition entails dealing with injury and illness, moving up or down levels within the sport, and the ultimate transition out of sport altogether. It’s an absolute shame that this topic has been overlooked because the ultimate transition of leaving a sport, oftentimes when it has been a gymnast’s entire life, creates a huge sense of loss. So often, a person doesn’t just do gymnastics, they ARE a gymnast. Being a gymnast becomes their identity.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking pride in your athleticism; in fact, that’s a very healthy feeling! The problem develops when the athlete’s entire identity becomes that of a gymnast, so whether they’re unable to perform due to injury or they leave the sport permanently, it really feels like a death because a very large part of who they are is gone, either temporarily or permanently.
Looking more closely at retirement from sport…every human being experiences deep grief when there is death or any level of deep loss. Most gymnasts are in their late teens or early twenties (with a few rare exceptions) when they retire, so you can see why this process would be difficult! They’re so young and probably don’t really realize the extent of the loss so are experiencing all of these emotions of grief, sadness, confusion, and worthlessness and don’t have any clue as to why.
Why has this critical time in an athlete’s life been overlooked? It’s usually because coaches and an athlete’s support system that usually centers around gymnastics are still involved in the sport, and their attention is needed elsewhere. So, the gymnast who once had close teammates, coaches, and sometimes sports psychologists, nutritionists, and a large number of fans is now left to fend for himself/herself. We need to offer support to athletes now more than ever in their career, and so often, they don’t get the support that they need.
At OAW, we first work to build a sense of self-worth while athletes are still training so the transition is a bit more graceful and less tumultuous; however, leaving the sport is never easy no matter how well-adjusted an athlete is. Our goal is to help athletes, coaches and parents understand the impact of this difficult period of life and equip them with tools to help their athletes and children better navigate this unfamiliar terrain.
Article: “How to Help Athletes Adapt to Life After Sport” (from www.theconversation.com)
This article is not specific to gymnastics, but it allows athletes to know that they are not alone in their struggles as they transition. This article shares the struggles of a couple of higher level athletes, but it doesn’t just happen to high-level athletes. The challenges of losing a sport that is such a big part of who you are span all sports and age levels. Hopefully, this article will put the transitioning athlete’s mind at ease knowing there are others out there with similar feelings, and we are here to help.