Let’s discuss a few specifics on how you know when it’s your time to retire from sports.
Sports always seem to be a good imitator of life. The time we first started participating in sports reminds me of going to school for the first time, graduating each grade in elementary school, all the way through high school, and then college. Each level we advance in our sport takes us to a new phase and that progression continues even through the time we decide that it’s time to stop competing. The difference between school and sport, though, is that there isn’t a set deadline or date that tells us when we “graduate” or move on to the next, especially when it comes to making the decision to retire as a professional athlete. It can be a tough decision if you’re fortunate to have the opportunity to make it yourself and a lot of different factors may weigh in on that decision, but there are always resources and guidance for you to help determine what the next best step for you should be.
To end an athletic career is a difficult decision to make. There are so many factors to go into a life changing decision. Is your body ready to retire? Is your mind ready to find your next passion? Are you emotionally ready for a lifestyle change? Is your team or coach in support of this decision? Where do your family and close friends stand? What else should you consider and how much do you factor in all of those people and elements?
Here are some questions to ask yourself in helping to determine if retiring is right for you:
- How does my body feel? Give yourself (or perhaps with a doctor or trainer) an honest assessment of how your body is dong.
- How does your mind feel? Are you still motivated to compete at that high level? Do you have what it takes to put in the same amount and not have it detract from your play or those around you?
- How does your social life play into this decision? Are you finding yourself wondering what there else is to do or feelings of missing out in other parts of your life?
- How does the thought of retiring play into your emotions? After the initial apprehension of starting a new life, what other emotions are you feeling?
- What is your relationship like with your coach? How can he or she help in the decision? Do you have an agent, manager, or confidant that you can talk through these questions?
- What other opinions from family members, significant others, and close friends matter most to you? Will your decision impact them?
Something that can really help with knowing when is the right time for retirement is leaning on a mentor or someone who has gone through this process before you; someone who has also finished competing in their sport. They can provide guidance in navigating this new territory. Similarly, a mentor can serve as a reminder that you WILL find the next passion and that you WILL be great in the next phase of life. As we know with any journey in life, we often cannot do it alone.
Something that can be frustrating is feeling like you were forced into retirement. How often do athletes go out on top? During this time, it may be challenging to see the positives in your career while feeling forced to stop competing at the sport you love, something you’ve done your whole life. It’s important to remember that the opportunity you’ve had to play as an elite athlete is an extraordinary achievement that most people don’t have. This in and of itself is going ‘out on top’! You’ve accomplished things others can only dream of. So instead of feeling angry that your career might be over or near over, try to have gratitude for the time and experiences you’ve had to compete.
Also, sometimes athletes don’t get to choose when they are done with their sport due to an injury. Sometimes it can happen in a moment. One tackle, serve, or play that changes the course of your playing career that you never expected. It causes a feeling of helplessness, being at the mercy of doctors, rehab sessions, and not being a part of the team as you once were, wishing to be back on the field where you feel a sense of belonging and home. Having a mindset that each experience is a learning opportunity can help ease the feeling of loss amidst a serious injury. It’s easier said than done when your world comes crashing down and the physical and emotional pain is at the forefront of you mind. However, when you feel like your body has failed you, remember you are always in control of your mindset. Ask yourself, “what can I learn from this?” or “how can I grow in a new way”? As time goes on, the lessons you learn –both from a mental and physical perspective- from a career ending injury will benefit you tenfold in your next career and phase of your life. The determination, dedication, and diligence gained from overcoming this adversity will make you an incredible person and employee wherever that next step takes you.
Don’t let the fear of not knowing what your next passion in life will be keep you from knowing when it’s time to retire and move on. There are going to be hardships but lean on those around you and those that have come before you for guidance. Ultimately, the best guidance in making the decision on whether or not to retire is listening to your body and mind when they’ve had enough.