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Easing the transition into retirement

This is an excerpt from Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology 6th Edition With Web Study Guide by Robert Weinberg & Daniel Gould.

Transitions Out of Sport: Relationship to Psychological Well-Being

Although this chapter focuses on the influence of exercise on psychological well-being, many highly competitive athletes confront psychological issues when they transition out of sport. Much has been written and many models have been developed regarding the psychological issues that occur when transitioning out of competitive sport (Alferman & Stambulova, 2007; Lavalle, Park, & Tod, 2013; Stambulova, Alfermann, Statler, & Cote, 2009). When athletes freely choose to retire and plan for it, leaving sport can add to their psychological well-being because they spend more time with their families, don’t have the stresses of winning or losing, and have more time to pursue their hobbies.


However, leaving competitive sport is often not under an athlete’s control. The two most prevalent reasons for forced retirement are being deselected (cut) from a team due to a decrease in performance or being injured and unable to perform at the normal level. Other reasons for involuntary retirement include drug use, gambling or other infractions of league policy, lockouts, financial issues, family problems, or boycotts. Retirement under these conditions often produces strong emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety, depression) and high levels of life dissatisfaction, which are seen in about 20% of athletes who retire. Petitpas, Tinsley, and Walker (2012) note a number reasons for these negative reactions, including the following:

  • Bitterness of being forced to retire
  • Loss of camaraderie with teammates and relationships with coaches
  • Loss of self-identity because their identities have been closely tied to their sport
  • Lack of confidence in their abilities to cope effectively with everyday life situations
  • Loss of adulation from fans
  • Inability to replace the excitement of the sport experience with anything else

Traditional stress management and cognitive - behavioral interventions have been used to help athletes with these negative reactions to retirement. Additionally, a program called the Life Development Intervention has been shown to help athletes cope with career transitions (Danish, Petitpas, & Hale, 1995; Lavalle, 2005). The Life Development Intervention provides useful strategies to use before an event (e.g., retirement), supportive strategies to use during an event, and counseling strategies to use after an event. Athletes are taught life skills to help them make decisions about retirement, coping skills, and goal-setting skills that can transfer to other areas of life.

Learn more about Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Sixth Edition With Web Study Guide.