Life after Olympics tough for some athletes

U. QUEENSLAND (AUS) — Qualities that drive athletes to compete at the Olympic level can take their toll later on, as athletes adjust to life after elite sports.

Researchers from the University of Queensland and institutions in Switzerland and Great Britain conducted the study that finds that, while many former Olympians make the transition easily, others found that changing social networks and re-entering the workforce took its toll.

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The researchers interviewed former Olympic athletes who had both trained for and competed at the Olympics, and say that the results surprised them. Some former athletes reported experiencing problems like disorientation, depression, and self-doubt.

“Given that Olympians require an exceptional range of characteristics such as determination and patience, one would assume that such characteristics would guarantee success in life after their sporting careers. Our research suggests that this is not always the case,” says Steven Rynne of the School of Human Movement Studies.

“Some characteristics have proved to be useful beyond sport such as organization and persistence while others proved less useful. Submissiveness, perfectionism, and competitiveness were identified as the most problematic.”

Rynne says the dramatic shift in daily-to-day activities could be hard to cope with.

“While some athletes thrive in their respective sporting environments and move into other fields with few problems, others experienced forms of disorientation, depression, and self-doubt when transitioning into lives beyond sport,” he says.

“There is generally a quite significant shift in the daily lives of athletes once they retire from competitive sport such as moving into professional work environments or changing their social networks, and this can be hard to deal with.

“This suggests that it is important to consider who and what shapes the development of Olympians and how this can be improved to foster elite performance as well as adaptive behaviors beyond elite sport,” Rynne says.

The research team was chosen by the International Olympics Council’s (IOC’s) Olympic Studies Centre Research Grant Program to conduct the study, “Preparing Olympic Athletes for Lives Outside of Elite Sport: Towards Best Practice.”

“Much has been made of the Olympic ideals and the kinds of people that become Olympians, but few studies had examined this from a socio-cultural perspective with regard to what and how athletes learn on their path to and during their Olympic careers,” Rynne says.

The findings will provide direction for further research and possible intervention strategies which may help high-performance sports coaches and practitioners better prepare their athletes for elite competition, as well as for life beyond sport.

As part of his research, Rynne attended the pre-Olympic conference in Glasgow to review the studies.

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