Over the last decade, retirement in elite sport has received considerable attention from researchers. From studies it has been found that the termination of a sporting career induces changes in athletes personal, social and occupational lives. Changes in these areas can potentially affect athlete’s cognitions, emotions and behaviors.
After an athlete retires it is usually recognized that social and professional changes can cause distressful reactions for an individual. Most elite athletes are not given the correct resources to help them deal with retirement. Within sport there has been a lack of research looking into retirement and the affect that it has on bodily changes. For many athletes the body plays a key role in the construction of their identity. Elite athletes derive much of their self worth from their perceived competence in the physical domain. An athlete’s physical self-perceptions are linked to physical activity level and quality. Therefore when an athlete retires, there is a decline in their sporting capacities and a negative perception of how they view their body. This decline in performance and deterioration of bodily perception is assumed to be very stressful and threatening for the self-esteem of a retired athlete. Elite athletes train for many years to reach their best physical condition and when this starts to deteriorate it can affect an athlete in many ways. North and Lavallee (2004) looked at how athletes plan their lives after retirement and found that after athletes retire they focus primarily on starting a professional career, taking a degree, having a family and enjoying life. For elite athletes, body changes that occur after retirement was not an aspect that was considered as part of their post sport career.
The bodily transition that occurs after retirement may potentially be a source of distressful reaction. After an athlete retires their new career often does not allow the former athlete to keep fit and maintain a new exercise programme. Most elite athletes are used to exercise programmes that involve high intensity and therefore when they begin a new programme the athlete will struggle to adapt. Bodily changes such as weight gain, loss of muscular mass and bodily pain all become worries for an athlete which can cause many problems after retirement. The retired athletes body image is affected mainly due to the large reduction of training and new eating habits that the athlete experiences after retiring from competitive sport.
Once an athlete retires they must be aware of physical changes and how this can affect their psychological state. By preparing for these changes an athlete will be able to deal with future problems which might occur. Sporting Governing Bodies must support retired athletes and help them overcome challenges that could be linked to their physical self worth. Education is extremely important and therefore porgrammes must be implemented to help athletes understand what changes could happen after they retire.