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Planning for a career after sport

Why investing in athlete career planning can lead to a brighter future and a win win for athletes and sports organisations

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Posted On Mar 07, 2023 

Some athletes view career planning as a distraction, taking away valuable time and energy which could be better focused on competing. But for many athletes, thinking beyond their sporting career is a vital investment they need to make. 


Sporting professionals such as female footballers often have to juggle multiple jobs off pitch to finance their footballing careers. As they struggle against obvious headwinds such as pay equality and access to resources which their male counterparts get, planning for a career after their on-pitch one has ended is a necessity. 


Future career planning should not be isolated to just the individual. Sports organisations – by which we mean federations, associations, leagues, clubs, athlete unions and organisers of mega sporting events - need to assess the support provision they provide to their athletes when they retire.


Everyone wins


It’s easy to see why athletes may avoid thinking about life after retirement – and why sports organisations may be tempted to discourage it: not only can retirement be a daunting prospect, but planning for it while still competing may be perceived as an unnecessary interruption from the laser-focus commitment to sport that is required of elite athletes.


Our experience and the evidence suggest that that’s not the case. Research reveals that planning for retirement while still competing can actually enhance and improve an athletic career. A recent study by Dr David Lavallee analysed data from 632 rugby players in Australia and New Zealand over three years; it found that players who engaged with pre-retirement planning actually had greater success in the form of team selection, the number of years they were contracted by their team and the overall length of their career


A holistic approach makes the difference


So, how can sports organisations utilise these benefits? Different organisations will have different relationships with their athletes, but there are some fundamental strategies that can change the game when it comes to preparing athletes for life after sport.


  • Formalise athlete career transition planning
    Research shows that the earlier athletes start career planning, the better their outcomes. Sports organisations can help the process by implementing career transition services and programs into their standard offerings.

  • Map the journey
    Athletes are used to structure and meticulous schedules. Sports organisations can make the most of this by providing athletes with journey maps, which plot the steps between now and future career success.

  • Involve the entourage
    It’s vital that sports organisations involve entourage members in the career transition process. Dedicating time to non-sporting activities, such as a dual career, while still competing is crucial to a successful career transition, but it’s less likely to happen without a supportive entourage.

  • Prioritise mental wellbeing
    Up to one in five athletes suffer from a mental health issue after retiring. Organisations can incorporate formal wellness frameworks into their programs, which will not only safeguard athletes’ post-retirement wellbeing but will likely improve their performance on the field of play.

Helping athletes prepare for success


Sports organisations can help educate athletes and make them aware of the potential challenges career transition might present. Athletes look to their sports organisations for guidance, meaning they have a unique opportunity to encourage athletes to develop life and employment skills outside of sport. 


Sports organisations can raise awareness of career transition programs and strategies, provide opportunities for career development, and encourage athletes to focus on non-sporting identities. And remember – career transition doesn’t mean athletes have to leave sport: organisations can benefit by keeping athletes in the sports system as coaches and administrators, where they can bring invaluable experience and skills.


Ask the experts


You probably wouldn’t advise an athlete to take on a non-specialist as a coach, and the same goes for their career off the field of play. Investing in professional career transition services can make the difference when it comes to helping athletes prepare for retirement.


Research has shown that athletes have a wealth of unique and transferable skills that are in high demand by employers. Career transition experts can help athletes and sports organisations make the most of that potential by showing how athletes’ skillsets can put them on the path to success in a range of other careers.


If you’re looking for resources or advice on how to help your athletes with pre-retirement planning, we can help.

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