Categories: What We Know567 words2.2 min readPublished On: January 8, 2021

The Last Transition


Dan Zimet


January 8, 2021


Transition. It can take months or years, but the challenges of transitioning out of sport are wide-ranging. These hardships are documented in several books, including Racing the Sunset by Scott Tinley the more recent Personal Next by Melinda Harrison, as well as documentaries including The Weight of Gold. Research is also being conducted, and a systematic review of athlete transition out of sport was published in 2013 by Park, Lavelle, and Tod. They reviewed 126 studies conducted between 1968 and 2010, and identified fifteen variables associated with the hardships and quality of an athlete’s career transition. These variables are:

1. Athlete identity

Athletes whose identity is exclusively focused on sport have a harder time during the transition. Having interests outside of sport helps the transition.

2. Demographic issues

There are mixed findings, although athletes who are married receive greater support. Having a positive support system helps the transition.

3. Voluntariness of the retirement decision

Athletes who feel they were in control of the decision to retire tend to have an easier time with the transition. Athletes who feel forced out of their sport, for example by injury or deselection, have a harder time with the transition.

4. Injuries & health problems

Pain, lingering injuries, and health concerns make the transition more difficult.

5. Career/personal development

Many retiring athletes feel unprepared to deal with the differences of a work environment outside of sport. Athletes who have made specific plans for life after sport have an easier transition.

6. Perceived achievement

Athletes who had greater career success can have an easier time with the transition if they feel satisfied with their achievements. If an athlete feels unfulfilled by his or her career in sport, the transition can be harder.

7. Educational status

Studies find that elite athletes often feel that sport interfered with their educational attainment. Athletes who completed their college education tend to do better in the long-run.

8. Financial status

Athletes who earn less in their athletic careers tend to have a harder time with the transition. Similarly, those athletes who feel financially secure from their earnings as an athlete tend to have an easier transition.

9. Self-perception

Particularly around body-image, negative emotions can arise as an athlete’s physicality diminishes in retirement. Athletes can feel out of control with their bodies, leading to negative emotions. Athletes who accept physical changes, after they leave sport, have a better transition.

10. Control of life

Athletes who experience less control over their lives, both during their career as an athlete and after, had a harder time during the transition.

11. Disengagement/drop out

Athletes who felt that their retirement was premature (e.g., sooner than they wanted) have a harder time adjusting, often caused by negative emotions regarding unfinished goals from their career.

12. Time passing since retirement

As time passes, retired athletes tend to adjust to life after sport. Park, Lavelle, and Tod also observed that 18-months after retirement, many athletes begin to feel a greater sense of balance in their lives.

13. Relationship with coach

Athletes who report a poor relationship with their coach have greater difficulties with the transition out of sport.

14. Life changes

Life outside of sport can be very different on a daily basis, and athletes can struggle to structure their time and find meaningful goals. Athletes who can fill their time productively have an easier transition.

15. Balance of life

As with Identity, athletes engaging in activities other than sport prior to retirement (e.g., education, volunteer work) had an easier time with the transition.

Related articles