Through my research and consultancy work with top athletes and sporting organisations, I have seen the growing desire to improve mental health support for athletes. The environment in which these athletes operate can be ruthless and relentless, with staff and players alike being seen as dispensable. Although progress has been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go before we achieve optimal athlete care and development. It’s crucial that we continue to innovate and design new support systems that carefully consider the end-users and their unique needs, motivations, and desires.
Another challenge that athletes face is that their sport is front and central in their lives, they have limited time for anything else and so they only have limited life experience outside of sport. This can lead to feelings of boredom, loneliness, and a lack of personal choice after retirement as they struggle to find their place in the wider world. The constant scrutiny and negative feedback can also take a toll on their mental well-being, making it difficult for them to relax and enjoy life outside of sport.
One of the key issues that we face is the impact of retirement on an athlete’s mental health. Regardless of the reason for retirement, the transition can be challenging and lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Retirement is like a really bad divorce or a death in the family – you are no longer connected, but you are not ready to let go. It is imperative that we provide support to athletes during this critical time in their lives, as they adjust to a new identity and navigate the challenges of life outside of sport.