This week, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio came to a conclusion. Bringing with it the final competition of a season for many athletes. In some cases, the final competition EVER, ending what is most likely a lifetime and career focused almost exclusively on their sport.
These elite athletes will go home receiving praise. Some medal winners will go back to their hometowns and may even be honored with parades. They will be asked to do press interviews, go on tours and take countless pictures with fans, young and old, while holding their precious, hard-earned medals from their various victories abroad.
And those that don’t win medals will also experience many of the emotions that come with the end of an Olympic journey and the accomplishment or failure to reach a goal they have spent a great part of their lifetime working towards.
What most people aren’t aware of – and don’t see – is what happens after the best athletes in the world win these medals. The cameras and crowds go away and the excitement and “high” that comes from competing and winning at the highest level dissipates.
Here’s a recent post from former Olympic wrestler, Brandon Slay that accounts for the experience first-hand of what it is like for returning and retiring Olympic athletes.
It’s a difficult transition and understandably so, one that most, if not all athletes do not prepare for. This experience is a big unknown for many elite athletes and preparation can be difficult.
Some have experienced difficulties with this transition into levels of depression as Olympic Champion swimmer, Allison Schmitt notes back in 2015 (who also competed in Rio).
This article also sheds light on what it's like to be an elite athlete and what happens after the conclusion of a career or an event like the Olympics.
Regardless of the level, once an individual stops playing their particular sport after years of being devoted to it, there are bound to be emotions and a transition that goes along with it. Once that emotional high is removed and there is no longer a goal or destination, there is bound to be an emotional and physical void to be filled. This void comes in many shapes and sizes -- whether that is acknowledgement, passion, confidence, trust, love, socialization, or a physical release of some type.
So – what’s an individual to do once they have determined it’s time to move on? How do they go about filling this void? In my experience as an athlete and in working with many athletes that have made this particular transition, here are some ideas:
- Start with your support network and community. Leverage the support system you put into place as an athlete to reach your goals to support you throughout the transition to help you determine what’s next.
- Identify other areas of interest. This might be the FIRST time in a very long time that you have done something relaxing and fun outside of your sport. Spend a lot of time learning more about what you like and what you don’t like to do.
- Put an action plan in place – set some goals. As an athlete, you most likely set goals and benchmarks to help you achieve those goals. Getting yourself established into a new routine, and creating new milestones to hit can only help with this.
- Ask for help if you need it. Don’t assume it will just “get better” or that you can tackle this alone. There are so many professionals that can help with change and transition – find a counselor or a coach to help you put a plan in place. Your athletic coach, college athletic department advisors and administration, leagues and players associations, and even the IOC has tools and programs in place to help support athletes transitioning to life after sports.