By Melodie Veldhuizen
Normally one’s retirement age is determined by your employer, but for professional athletes there are many other factors (sometimes outside of their control) that determines when they should retire and enter a new life phase. Jannie Putter, mental coach of several athletes and sports teams, well-known motivational speaker and author gave us a few guidelines in reaction to this question.
What role does age play in an athlete’s decision to retire? Retirement is very personal. In the world of sports, your level of physical health has a huge impact on the lifespan of your sports career. At the age of 37, for example, Rodger Federer abolished all previous “traditions” and shifted boundaries. Suddenly everyone believes that the lifespan of a tennis player’s career can be much longer. Retirement is therefore directly affected by your level of physical health rather than by age. Wisdom plays a very important role in this choice – some athletes fight against ending their career while others realise with dignity that their career has come to an end and a new season has started in his or her life. Thus, it is not so much about age, but rather about who you are and how you think!
What role does an athlete’s family play? If a career in sport results in you losing your family, it does not really make sense! Should you decide to end your sports career against your will due to pressure from your family, it could also result in you becoming a bitter person. Smart life decisions should take you to a place where you and your family stand in unity with you practicing your sports career – not have you divided!
How important is the opinion of supporters, teammates, friends and the media? Fans can make or break an athlete’s career (depending on who he or she is). Many athletes’ careers were terminated prematurely due to pressure from supporters and “friends”. Success and friends have a huge effect on popularity, but it is also the cause of many athletes’ early retirement. Especially in the golf world, there are many stories of players who wanted to be “in” with their friends so much that, due to foolish decisions, they actually gave up their careers. Criticism in the media can completely ruin an athlete’s self-esteem and confidence (especially those who expose themselves to social media and constantly read what others say)!
What role does burnout play? When athletes reach a level of burnout, they have probably also lost their love for the sport. When you lose heart, it takes a lot of patience to win it back. Coaches must work wisely so that burnout never occurs. One can live a second chance at a dream, but then it will probably be an emotionally mature sportsman or woman who has gone through the recovery process and regained his or her love for the sport. Unfortunately, most sports have a small window period where you can actually live a dream (between five and ten years) and often burnout causes you to miss that window period.
Can an injury force an athlete to retire against his or her will? An injury (even one that can be rehabilitated or healed) can play a crucial role, especially when it occurs in the middle or second half of the window period for a specific sport. Injuries should be dealt with wisely to prevent the injury from getting worse or perhaps becoming chronic. Warren Whitely was elected as Springbok captain, but his injuries became chronic and in the end that was the reason why he could not enjoy the crown of his career.
What role should the coach / agent play in the decision? No athlete who dreams of a successful career can ever have rehabilitate an injury faster to get back in the mix. Only a foolish coach and a greedy agent will encourage an athlete to be tough and ignore an injury. Patience and wisdom in dealing with injuries are extremely essential. Rather take a week or two longer and recover completely before rushing back and trying to impress people. In the past, foolishness and impatience have been the cause of many top athletes’ premature retirement from their careers.
What should you do if your coach think you have reached your peak? Surely, you can change your coach. However, there is a season for everything in life. Sometimes we try to prolong a season too long and it gets worn out. Some coaches are great with young children but have no ability to work with a senior athlete. When a season is over, move on. However, one cannot give up one’s dream because of apparent loyalty because your coach no longer believes in you.
What role does finances play, and when and how should professional athletes plan financially for their retirement? Like any other person with a full-time career, athletes need to plan what they will do with their lives and where they are going – especially at the end of their career in sports. Even if one earns a lot of money, one still has to plan. Top athletes are surrounded by a team of people, some of whom are only responsible for managing the athlete’s finances.”
How should athletes deal with the emotional challenges associated with retirement, especially if they have had a glorious career that positively impacted their self-esteem? Ask yourself: “Why would I keep going?” Fame and notoriety (like a sports career) is temporary and eventually loses its appeal. Sports achievements are appealing to many but eventually you need to realise that your worth does not lie in sport, but in who you are and what difference you make. Who are you when sport does not determine your identity anymore? You shouldn’t (or needn’t) ever have to walk this journey alone – we all need help sometimes in our lives. A mentor or mental coach can help you with this. This is a big part of my job with athletes! To help them with long-term planning. Success is a way of life, every day. It takes a mind shift and a choice that all athletes need to make.
Can you continue practicing sport after ending your professional sports career? Your “name” can open many doors to further opportunities, whether as ambassador or coach. Gary Player is an excellent example of an athlete whose career has gone from strength to strength – even though his seasons have changed! Not all athletes have the ability to coach. Coaching has a lot to do with your understanding of important elements of sport (emotional intelligence) and also your ability to work with people. Sport can certainly still be a career and lifestyle – not only a short season of achievement and thereafter you are spit out.
What alternatives are there for athletes when retiring? Remember to plant seeds when it is going well with your career, so that when you are retiring you can reap the rewards. Use the platform of your success to dig a foundation for your future. For example, forge good relationships with businesses or sponsors that can use you as ambassador later in life. There are many opportunities!
For more information, contact Jannie Putter:
Telephone number: 083 291 0181 or visit his website https://www.jannieputter.co.za/