Researchers from the UK, Australia and Switzerland found that many elite athletes suffer from ‘post-Olympic let down’ after the games because they fail to think about what happens once they reach, or fail to reach, their sporting goals.
The immense lifestyle change can be tough for many athletes, who feel a great sense of loss and failure when they no longer have a clear goal to aim for.
Often, the skills gained throughout their sporting careers, such as perfectionism, self-belief and intense expectation can impede their chances of succeeding later on in life.
Once away from the competitive environment, such qualities can make integrating into social situations difficult. Suddenly self-centeredness stops being an asset and starts becoming a flaw – especially in office and team situations.
The researchers interviewed eight former world-class athletes anonymously to see whether the qualities necessary for sporting success were transferable to everyday life.
One female participant said: “In [my sport] you would be training for some intricate little skill that you want to improve or perfect and you had constant goals and you had constant reassurances that you were doing the right thing.”
When she left sport to become a primary school teacher, the distinct lack of feedback or any clear measure of success left her feeling overwhelmed at the lack of direction or purpose that she’d previously been so accustomed to.
Steven Rynne of the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement Studies believes this dramatic shift in lifestyle often has a detrimental effect on athletes after retirement, leaving many to deal with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
The effects, he claims, are even more pronounced if an athlete fails to fulfill his or her sporting goals before they retire.
He believes more needs to be done to help former Olympians integrate back into normal lives once their sporting careers come to an end.
The individuals who plan their post-Olympic lives cope much better than those who refuse to think of anything beyond achieving their athletic goals.
The research has sparked talks of introducing an Olympic debriefing programme available to help coaches and athletes deal with the end of the games by easing them back into their day-to-day lives.
Dealing with significant lifestyle change can be difficult and stressful. To find out more about the effects and benefits of counselling, please visit our Types of Distress page.
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