Life after a global sporting accolade
I am a huge sports fan, and as we approach another Sports Personality of the Year ceremony, I love to look back over the thrills and spills of the sporting year.
This summer saw the retirement of two of the World’s greatest athletes: Usain Bolt and Mo Farah. Two very different characters, both iconic to the point where they need no name, just a movement of the arms, to identify them. There has been a lot of press comment about the huge loss to World athletics that their retirements bring — but what of the loss to them as people? Their achievements have been immense, and played out on a World stage, to an adoring crowd.
Neither of these men will be short of sponsorship deals or job offers as they start the next leg of their journey. The opportunities for both men are interesting — a potential role running the Caribbean arm of Puma for Bolt and a reinvention on the road for Mo Farah.
As a coach, I am particularly interested in the personal changes that will arise, and what these changes will mean for them in the next phase of their lives.
When they are no longer world-class athletes, then who are they? Will the switch to the road continue to give Mo the adrenaline buzz of competing? How will the world of business fill the gap for Usain Bolt?
Team GB Olympic Champion Cyclist, Victoria Pendleton, expressed relief when she retired after the 2012 Games. However, not all athletes find the transition to a life no longer led by the discipline of training, or performed in the limelight, an easy one.
Whilst much has been written about the emotional difficulties experienced by many top athletes, as they try to adjust to a new lifestyle after retirement, it is only in recent years that we have seen formal academic studies. Schwenk et al. (2007) stated that “the transition is often found to be difficult because of the sudden cessation of intense demands of elite athletic performance, compounded by the sudden loss of the athlete’s intense devotion to professional athletic competition and its attendant rewards.”
Boxing legend, Sugar Ray Leonard, said “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring…there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions, of people cheering you on”.
Usain Bolt has been described as “a selfless human being, one who genuinely loves to make others happy”. With pure competition and the opportunity to receive accolades on a world stage now in the past, how will he discharge his energy? How will he identify himself and satisfy the need for success and approval, and to make others happy?
Having worked with people from many different backgrounds, in business, performing arts and sport, I have seen the two sides of the high performance coin. The highs of success and the lows of self-doubt. Many highly successful individuals already experience anxiety about their performance when their careers are in full flow, retirement can bring that into even starker focus.
Many look to replicate the feelings of success, the approval and the admiration. A key risk at this time is the creation of unhelpful, and potentially damaging, behaviours in the search for fulfilment on a different stage. Finding a new direction, one that allows them to live and work in an authentic way, is critical.
Both Usain Bolt and Mo Farah have had some of the best sports coaches in the world.