Having a career as a professional athlete may seem like it would be a dream come true as, but the dream doesn’t last forever. Due to the physical demands of the job, most professional athletes retire from their chosen sport in their early 30s. In other words, at an age when they still have many productive years ahead of them, they must find another profession. Unfortunately, because an athletic career requires such intense focus and energy, all too few professional athletes are properly prepared when the time inevitably comes to leave the playing field and move into a new career.
The good news is that today’s athletes don’t have to go it alone. A growing number of organizations are dedicating time and attention to the struggles that competitive athletes face as they transition out of their professional sporting careers. These entities are helping to connect retired or retiring athletes to services such as mental health support and financial planning advice. In addition, athletes can also turn to their predecessors for help. Looking at some of the most common post-retirement career paths their peers have followed can help retiring athletes get ideas about future career options that might work for them. For example:
1. Other careers in sports and athletics.
A retired athlete’s may no longer be playing as the primary source of income, but the athletic world comprises many exciting careers. Many retired professional athletes transition into second careers in other areas within sports and athletics. Perhaps the most obvious career path here is coaching — at the professional, college, or even high school level. However, there are many other sports-related jobs that are a natural fit for former professional athletes. Examples include refereeing, working as a sports analyst or sports broadcaster, or work administrating college or university athletics programs.
2. Philanthropy and activism.
Professional athletes that have enjoyed financially lucrative careers very often turn to philanthropy and activism when they retire from sports. Some use their wealth to establish charities or other organizations that support causes that are important to them. Former Major League Baseball star Mo Vaughn has a company Omni New York, LLC, that rehabilitates affordable housing units in the New York area.
Others become natural advocates for certain causes due to their fame and status, such as former LA Laker Magic Johnson, who has been a prominent HIV/AIDS activist ever since revealing his own HIV-positive diagnosis in 1991. Not everyone is interested in establishing a nonprofit but working at a nonprofit that has a mission former athletes can relate to may be rewarding.
3. Entrepreneurship and business pursuits.
Successful professional athletes develop and hone skills like resilience, a strong work ethic, performance-based mindsets, and goal setting. It’s no surprise that many retired athletes and up entrepreneurs. Perhaps the most famous athlete-turned-entrepreneur story is that of George Foreman. The former professional boxer is now arguably even more famous for his George Foreman Grills, which have sold hundreds of millions of units worldwide.
But beyond these mega-success stories are countless other examples of retired athletes starting businesses, perfecting products, and developing concepts, often inspired by previous hobbies or passions that they had to set aside to focus on their sport. And even when athletes don’t start companies or businesses themselves, they often fare very well in the boardroom or in other executive roles.
4. Coaching and counseling.
Professional athletes have trained themselves to excel in their chosen sport. As a result, they are well-equipped to support others trying to do the same thing. Some career paths for retired athletes involve helping others achieve their physical goals. There is more variety here that you might think.
For example, a personal trainer works with clients to help them set fitness goals and develop exercise routines. A physical therapist helps people to regain physical functionality that they may have lost due to accidents or injuries. Occupational therapists may help people develop safe workarounds for physical tasks that they can no longer perform. A physical education teacher helps students of various ages learn about health-related topics and supervise them as they learn to play team sports.
Other career paths that can be fulfilling for retired athletes are focused on helping others reach mental, emotional, or other personal goals. For example, many athletes transition naturally to careers as life coaches or counselors, as they can draw on their own experience of what it’s like to strive for excellence under significant psychological pressure. Particularly for these careers, additional education and experience may be necessary. However, former players may excel in these environments as well.
5. Media and public relations.
Few people understand the importance of maintaining a good public image like professional athletes. This makes them a natural fit for careers in the sphere of media and public relations. It is not uncommon for retired athletes to pursue careers as media presenters or spokespeople. They are familiar with being in the spotlight and understand what does and doesn’t appeal to audiences.
In other cases, retired athletes may also be interested in taking more of a coaching role when it comes to public relations. Image consultants help clients — from individuals to companies — manage and maintain their public representations, work with media outlets, and create a strategy to mitigate the damage done by any bad press or public relations issues.