Life After Professional Sports: How to Deal with Retirement As An Athlete

Jason Hanold
4 min readMar 5, 2024

While people in other industries are only just embarking on their career path in their late 20s and early 30s, by this point most athletes are already contemplating what they will do after retiring from professional sports. Fortunately, athletes possess numerous highly desirable skills that place them at an advantage in many professions and industries.

The career transition is something that happens to every athlete. Most athletes will need to find another vocation following retirement. The challenge comes in translating their experiences and skills.

Unique background and experiences

Each elite athlete has their own unique background and experiences. Usually, an athlete’s educational and vocational journey will be very different than that of a non-athlete, many athletes having sacrificed their learning to devote themselves fully to their chosen sport. However, by demonstrating that they have what it takes to compete at the highest level, athletes already have valuable experiences and skills that could benefit any workplace.

For any professional athlete, facing the end of their sporting career represents a major upheaval. Nevertheless, formulating an exit plan and preparing for retirement from sports can make the transition easier.

Transitioning into a post-sports life

All athletes must face the reality that their sporting career will one day come to an end, forcing them to start a new chapter in life. Some will reach this transition sooner than others, but eventually, every athlete will need to move on, starting a new career or vocation.

This can be an incredibly daunting prospect for an athlete with little or no experience in working full-time outside of their sport. Many athletes miss out on college due to their sporting commitments, placing them at an academic disadvantage. Nevertheless, while the transition into a post-sports life is not always easy, there are steps that athletes can take to prepare themselves for some of the challenges they may face.

The physical nature of sports generally necessitates retirement at a much younger age compared with other careers. Some studies suggest that it is rare for an elite athlete’s career to last more than a decade, with athletes typically retiring at around 34 years of age. Retirement age can be much earlier in sports like gymnastics. With athletes training for six hours per day, six days a week, 12 months a year, on average, this leaves precious little time for studying, work experience, or career planning.

Variety of challenges

Retiring athletes face a variety of challenges as they adjust to life after sports. Sportsmen and women are used to having a highly structured day, making the most of every minute for their training. They also have a team to support them, both in their sport and in their personal lives. Their goals are set and clear, with a strong sense of identity and an understanding of their purpose.

Whether it’s a slow transition or a sudden stop due to injury, retirement is something that every athlete will face. “What if” planning is a great way of preparing for situations you may have fears about, encouraging participants to identify their biggest concerns, then formulate a plan of action in case issues do arise.

Planning for retirement

“What if” planning helps athletes to prepare and think about what they can do to help themselves. It is also a good way of ensuring that they acknowledge the situation as it really is, rather than living in denial and pretending that it is not happening.

Putting the technique into practice involves writing down potential scenarios that might happen and your worries about these situations. Finally, create an ‘if, then’ plan for each situation. This task can be completed alone, although it may be beneficial to work with people you trust and who support you.

Research shows that athletes who plan their retirement in advance are actually more likely to be successful in their playing careers, since planning for the future makes them less stressed and better able to focus on their sporting performance.

A range of career options

Many former athletes launch their own businesses after retiring from sports, having managed to save a nest egg during their sporting career. Indeed, a career in professional sports bestows many skills that are highly sought after in the business world, too, including leadership skills, a work ethic, commitment, determination, teamwork, effective communication, resilience, and a can-do attitude.

Some former sports stars may choose to pass their knowledge on to the next generation as managers or coaches, while others may dedicate themselves to helping people to improve their fitness as professional trainers. Other vocations that might appeal to a former sportsperson include becoming a dietitian, nutritionist, or physical therapist. These athletes have benefited from years of learning about their own bodies and how to become stronger and fitter. Sports analysis and broadcasting are also popular second careers for former athletes, enabling them to stay involved with their sport and applying their practical knowledge.

Having sacrificed learning for their chosen sport, many retired athletes opt to return to college, acquiring new knowledge and skills. For those seeking to venture into an entirely new field, further education opens up a whole host of opportunities, building on the valuable hard and soft skills that they have acquired through a career in professional sports.



Jason Hanold

Executive Recruiter, clients NFL, Google, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gucci, Nike, Northwestern, eBay, UFC, Vail, REI, Electronic Arts, Live Nation, #HR #Recruiter