Well, the Olympics ended last night with an enjoyable closing ceremony. The Games delivered contrasting fortunes to many of the athletes. Whilst some failed to achieve their goals and will try and use that disappointment to motivate them to future events, for many London 2012 proved the culmination of everything they hoped to achieve in sport. This could be the gold medal they’d always dreamed of, it could just have been to reach the Games and compete on the biggest stage.
The challenge for these athletes is, what next? How can you motivate yourself when you’ve already achieved everything you wanted to? This dilemma leads many to call it a day, quitting whilst at the very top. Athletes such as Michael Phelps and Victoria Pendleton have called time on their sporting careers.
Research from the University of Queensland provides an interesting insight into how well illustrious athletes integrate back into ‘civilian’ life again. They shed some light on the difficulties many athletes face in re-adjusting to ‘normal’ life again after so many years on the draining treadmill of sporting life.
The researchers interviewed former Olympic athletes who had both trained for and competed at the Olympics, and say that the results surprised them. Some former athletes reported experiencing problems like disorientation, depression, and self-doubt.
“Given that Olympians require an exceptional range of characteristics such as determination and patience, one would assume that such characteristics would guarantee success in life after their sporting careers. Our research suggests that this is not always the case,” says Steven Rynne of the School of Human Movement Studies.
“Some characteristics have proved to be useful beyond sport such as organization and persistence while others proved less useful. Submissiveness, perfectionism, and competitiveness were identified as the most problematic.”
Rynne suggests a major part of these difficulties in the dramatic shift in day-to-day activities, with a loss of social networks built up over years in the sporting world a significant loss for athletes.
“There is genera
lly a quite significant shift in the daily lives of athletes once they retire from competitive sport such as moving into professional work environments or changing their social networks, and this can be hard to deal with.
“This suggests that it is important to consider who and what shapes the development of Olympians and how this can be improved to foster elite performance as well as adaptive behaviors beyond elite sport,” Rynne says.
The research was intended to both improve elite level performance but also to better prepare athletes for life after competition. With so many athletes about to undergo this transition it will be interesting to see who manages the process successfully.