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Important to Prepare for Exit from Elite Sports

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Elite athletes should not focus only on their sports careers. What comes after must also be prepared. A research report shows that elite athletes who do not give enough thought to life after the career often run into problems.

Last October, a new research report on the transition from elite sports to what comes after was presented at the Swedish Sports Confederation’s elite sports conference in Stockholm.

The report was authored by Göran Patriksson and Owe Stråhlman from the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science at the University of Gothenburg and Per Göran Fahlström from Linnaeus University.

A number of sports

The researchers had interviewed 36 Swedish former world class athletes. One-third of them had retired from sports in the 1990s or earlier, and the rest in the 2000s. A number of different sports were represented.

The purpose of the study was to explore the athletes’ experiences
of their elite careers and their transition out of sports to a post-sports career.

‘In most cases, the retirement had been a planned decision. The transition out of sports was relatively pain-free for a majority. But some of them did experience problems for a period of time as a direct result of the retirement,’ says Patriksson, professor of sports education.

Combining sports and higher education

The interviewees stressed the importance of preparing for life after sports. The report also points to the importance of not focusing only on sports during an athlete’s career, but also to prepare for a new career. Those who had started or finished some kind of educational programme before quitting sports experienced only minor post-career problems.

‘The report will be very valuable to the sports movement as it gives a more nuanced view of retirement from elite sports than what is often portrayed in media. It also raises many interesting questions about the need for different types of combinations of sports and education at university level,’ says Stråhlman, associate professor (docent) in sport science.