This is Veronica writing today. I’m currently doing my internship in sport psychology with Climbing Psychology, studying my Masters in Innsbruck, Austria. Having been a professional cross country skier for many year, competing in various national and international competitions, the following topic affected me in many ways and I believe it’s important to realistically face, think and talk about this topic: our life after being a professional athlete.
We invest so many years, often our whole life, tons of energy and effort in improving our skills to become a better athlete. There is no warranty on success for anybody. The only thing everybody has to face and has to deal with is the end of an athletic career. Nobody’s athletic career lasts forever and everybody has a life after sport. We all know that, but still often ignore it.
Not many athletes want to think about this unpreventable transition – obviously. Why thinking about quitting when you are still on the top of your game? Only a few are looking forward, have ideas or feel good and confident when thinking about a different chapter in life.
I can tell you what I experienced: My whole life, I called myself a “skier” and suddenly I wasn’t a skier anymore. I still loved it and I still felt like one, but I thought that I wasn’t supposed or even “eligible” to call myself a skier anymore. I was irritated because I suddenly lost my identity, and I seriously didn’t know who I was or how I could describe myself. The road of being a professional athlete which I had taken my whole life suddenly ended. I felt lost and alone – even though I had made the decision to quit myself and not because I got kicked out of the team.
It is normal to feel sad, disappointed and angry after quitting because you stop something you love, you might have not reached some of your goals or because there is usually no way back to this kind of life.
It is important to think about the transition and make a plan for what comes next – if possible already in advance and not when you are forced to quit. It will feel good to have ideas, a rough structure or at least to know your strengths beyond sport. It is often helpful to talk to a person who knows you well, to a career planer or to a sport psychologist to figure out what you want to do afterwards. Usually, it is just about identifying what you already know.
It is also vital to have goals outside of sport during your athletic career to build up resilience in times of setbacks, injuries or other difficult situations, which are outside of your control. Building up self-esteem also in areas outside of your sport helped e.g. me to figure out who I really was and who I still am. Knowing my interests, skills and passions beyond sports made me looking forward to the life after my athletic career. It made me really sad to see many former athletes struggling for so long to finally feel fulfilled and happy again. Some ex-athletes fall deep, get depressed, very lonely and don’t want to deal with sport at all anymore. It doesn’t surprise me. During your career, your team mates are usually your friends because you have shared interests, all you do is train and travelling from one competition to the next, and well, there’s not much time left for hanging out with non-athletic people, not to speak of going to parties – which you are not really supposed to do during the season in order to stay fit. I experienced it to be really tricky to build up a social life and connections which will endure this kind of transition. I experienced feeling lonely and looking for new friends who share my new lifestyle and hobbies, which definitely was a challenge at the start. Losing your “job”, friends and maybe even moving to a new place can be scary and seriously not an easy chunk to swallow.
That’s why actively planning your next steps can decrease anxious feelings about the end of your athletic career.
Here are some steps that help you for your life after your athletic career:
Plan your new chapter
Discover yourself, (your interest, skills and passion beyond sport)
Identify your options
Test your possibilities
Build a social network
Have you ever thought about this topic? What are your thoughts on it? Have you found it hard to transition? What helped you?
Last but not least, climbing is indeed a very special sport. You see a lot of pro competition climbers transitioning to professional outdoor climbers, doing hard routes and boulders outside, possibly even doing different types of climbing, such as trad climbing, multi-pitching, alpine climbing. It’s the beauty of this sport that allows such a big diversity – and having to stop competitions doesn’t necessarily mean you are “not a climber” anymore. There are so many other ways to “be a climber. However, even if that’s the case you should think about what happens when you one day might not be as strong or successful to be a professional “outdoor” climber anymore. What happens when you get old and your body and muscles get injured or recover less quickly? What do you do then? What’s your next steps?