Sports sci­ence and train­ing news

Athletics Weekly - - nEWS -

TOP LEVEL ath­letes can struggle to ad­just to life af­ter retirement, with their iden­ti­ties con­tin­u­ing to be de­fined by their for­mer sports ca­reers, new re­search shows. The pa­per, pub­lished in the jour­nal Qual­i­ta­tive Re­search in Sport, Ex­er­cise and Health, il­lus­trates how elite sports peo­ple strive to ad­just so­cially and psy­cho­log­i­cally fol­low­ing retirement.

Dr Francesca Caval­le­rio, a lec­turer in sports and ex­er­cise sci­ences at of Anglia Ruskin Univer­sity, worked along­side Dr Ross Wadey of St Mary’s Univer­sity and Dr Chris Wagstaff of the Univer­sity of Portsmouth for the study which iden­ti­fied three nar­ra­tives typ­i­cally ex­pe­ri­enced by ath­letes fol­low­ing retirement.

Some of the sports peo­ple in­ter­viewed were iden­ti­fied as be­ing “en­tan­gled”, mean­ing “their iden­ti­ties were com­pletely de­fined by their for­mer ath­letic self and the val­ues in­stilled in them when they com­peted”, the re­searchers said. These ath­letes strug­gled to adapt to life af­ter sport and suf­fered from low con­fi­dence, low self-es­teem, and a lack of drive to­wards new goals and ex­pe­ri­ences.

An­other group were iden­ti­fied as “go­ing forward”. “These for­mer ath­letes were able to de­velop dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties to that of a gym­nast at the same time as they were com­pet­ing at a high level,” Caval­le­rio says. Once their ca­reers were over, they were able to make the most of what they had learnt in sport to help their fu­ture de­vel­op­ment. Those in the third cat­e­gory, the “mak­ing sense” group fell some­where in be­tween.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have shown that in the most ex­treme cases retirement can trig­ger de­pres­sion, eat­ing dis­or­ders and drug abuse. “Adapt­ing to retirement is dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple in so­ci­ety and this is par­tic­u­larly the case in elite sport,” says Wagstaff. “Such en­vi­ron­ments are char­ac­terised by very clear social and cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions. In or­der to be suc­cess­ful, ath­letes typ­i­cally con­form to and as­so­ciate success with these cul­tural norms.”

On a prac­ti­cal level, Caval­le­rio sug­gests par­ents and coaches should en­cour­age young ath­letes to de­velop a non-sport­ing iden­tity at the same time as a sport­ing iden­tity, and have a range of in­ter­ests and friend­ships out­side of their sport. “Sport con­tin­ues to em­brace the early iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment of tal­ented ath­letes.

“In many sports, the age at which peo­ple be­gin train­ing at a pro­fes­sional level is get­ting younger,” she says. “Our study shows how ath­letes are treated and in­flu­enced at a young age can have an ef­fect on how they deal with retirement. The is­sues we ob­served should be of in­ter­est to clubs and gov­ern­ing bod­ies across a range of sports.”

Retirement: stress and de­pres­sion are com­mon in ath­letes who quit elite sport

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