Research Paper By Colin Batchelor
(Wellness Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Why this topic?
In my ‘other life’ I work with as a traditional sports performance coach in the sport of cycling, where I work with athletes competing at national and international level. The experience that they and other athletes go through at the end of their careers greatly interests me and it is here I intend to focus my niche. This research paper is therefore a starting point for building that niche.
Most athletic careers span from early teens through to mid or late 30’s. During this period most aspects of an individual’s lives will be totally supported. They will have teams of specialists helping them reach their athletic potential, they will have their day by day activities mapped out for months and sometimes years ahead, they will know what they are doing from moment to moment, often they can effectively be just given a script and asked to follow it. Along with this support network most athletes have high level of self esteem due their reputation and success at local, national or international level.
The end of an athletic career however is the point where all this support stops, it is the point where the individual has to think for themselves, act for themselves and make their own decisions with little reference to others.
End of career issues
The end of an athletic career is often marked by high instances of depression, alcohol and or substance abuse, bouts of fear and self doubt, uncertainty and confusion. Whilst these elements and experiences are not uncommon when set against the general population they are often exacerbated and amplified due to the extreme contrast athletes face when moving from a supportive environment where their every need is catered for to one where that support network stops overnight. It is this sudden stop and lack of preparation for a career end moment that triggers many serious and occasionally fatal health issues.
I plan to look at the potential challenges facing career end athletes and evaluate if life coaching ahs a continuing place in supporting those athletes through that period and potentially beyond.
New life, new stress
Training for the Olympics is easier than being a mum
Gail Emms – Olympic medallist
Imagine if your current life stopped today and a new one began tomorrow. Imagine if all that you knew, all your certainties and all your plans stopped and you had nothing to replace them with, imagine the stress that you would feel. For many athletes at a career end that is their situation, they move from a safe and managed world into one that appears unmanaged and unsafe.
It’s a safety bubble, sport Gail Emms
There will be fears, uncertainty, and confusion. There will be new experiences, new challenges and new obstacles to overcome. Imagine if in your old life there was someone to help guide and support you through such situations, now imagine if in your new life that person is gone and it’s just you and that you haven’t been prepared for that change, how would you feel?
Life coaching can help fill that void, a life coach can offer an environment that allows the career end athlete to feel safe, they can offer support and can help the client gain awareness and through that awareness take movement and progress into this new and stressful life.
Who am I?
During their careers athletes have a very clearly defined self image; they know who they are simply because they are defined by their sport and defined by their position within it. Potentially though this strong self image may be at odds with their underlying beliefs and values. Or due to the strength of the self image those beliefs and values could be suppressed. It is therefore important then when working with career end athletes we pay attention to supporting our client in the development of clarity around their beliefs and values. Once we have supported the client in the discovery of their underlying beliefs we can begin to support them on their journey towards clarity and action.
For many athletes their version of their self esteem is governed by external factors. Their self esteem is linked to their sporting success, this holds a risk for them in so far as the removal of that success at the end of their career can create a crisis in their self esteem. Yannick Stephan’s research paper ‘Bodily transition out of elite sport’ shows significant drops in self esteem immediately following the ending of an athletic career.
Life coaching can continue to offer support during this transition phase by supporting the client as they develop an identity and a list of successes away from the sporting arena. Through focused listening, creating and holding a safe space for the client and powerful questioning we can support our client as they manage the perceived change in their self esteem.
Getting the fix
That fix? How do you get there? Do you get it from alcohol? Do you get it from drugs? Former England Rugby player Josh Lewsey
Something most people get from sport is an adrenalin rush or from the above quote the ‘fix’. It’s a rush from the intensity of the moment. Away from the competitive sporting environment it can be almost impossible to recreate that intense moment. Athletes facing a career end and the move away from that intensity can on occasions turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to recreate the ‘high’ they experience during competition.
In situations such as this life coaching can offer a mechanism for the client to understand the issues surrounding their desire to recreate the intense moment and can support the client as they look at alternatives to that moment. Additionally life coaching can support the client and allow them to project into a future where they have another successful career where they can still experience the fix of the moment of intensity. Tools such as visualisation world be particularly apt here and for many athletes this will be a tool they are used to working with, thus we would be able to maintain a comfort zone for our client to work in.
Dealing with stuff
I didn’t know how to deal with normal stuff, with my feelings Former England footballer Tony Adams.
The world of professional sport is by and large and artificial one, sporting teams or associations often have staff employed to carry out tasks on behalf of their athletes such as buying houses, ordering tables at restaurants or buying cars. This of course frees the athlete to concentrate on their profession with as few distractions as possible. Thus at the end of an athletic career the athlete will have to face a number of tasks they have no experience of, this can be a cause of high anxiety and stress and can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Here life coaching can offer support through the creation of a safe environment where those feelings can be expressed and examined. Holding a non-judgemental space for our client enables them to explore feelings away from judgement and to rationalise and evaluate situations in a calm and steady way. Ultimately a lot of growth can happen in such a space and it is a wonderful place to develop and to start focusing on new actions and new movement.
Dealing with the new
By the time most people are in their mid 30’s they have a vast array of experiences to draw upon when a new situation presents itself. Despite this there are occasions where new experiences present a series of challenges and manifest themselves as fear of the new and fear of change. Potentially the athlete at a career end point could experience a high degree of uncertainty and fear. ‘I was terrified’ Herol Graham – Boxer, on his retirement.
Life coaching gives us the ability and skill set to support our clients through periods of considerable change and periods of high levels of fear of that change. Through creating a safe and non confrontational environment, we, as life coaches are able to bring some stability and some ease to the situation our client finds themselves in. We can create a space where the client can articulate their fears and concerns and know that they will not be challenged about those fears. In such a space the skilled coach can use powerful questioning to draw success from the client past and help to project it into the future, allowing the client to have an idealised and successful outcome which can then become their focus.
There are many accounts of career athletes turning to drugs and alcohol during this phase of their lives, in extreme cases there are cases of suicide attempts. Whilst not offering a solution to all of this life coaching can play a role here as part of a support network that helps the client come to terms and refocus. Creating a non threatening space where the client has freedom to express their feelings and not to be judged can be a vital element in the construction of someone’s support network.
When do we start?
The most terrifying day of my life British cyclist Roger Hammond on the first day of his retirement
It’s not uncommon for people to put of making big decisions. Decisions that could be potentially life changing or could be threatening to our current situation are often the last we take. Yet when we are faced with significant life change it is important to take action and move towards some sort of resolution or decision about our situation before that change occurs, as, at that point we are often overwhelmed with feelings of fear and or panic.
Thus bringing life coaching to an athletes environment prior to their career end point can be a highly advantageous options as it allow the athlete to develop strategies, to gain awareness and to take self directed action. Thus when the end point of a career occurs the athlete is more able to cope with that major life change.
To support an athlete through a major life change, such as a career end transition, the coach needs to be able to create a space that is safe and supportive. The space must be non-challenging and be without judgement; here the coach must exhibit the skills of responding to the clients needs not reacting to the clients actions or beliefs.
Once a safe space has been established the coach can deploy a range of tools in order to support the client and to help their client develop some self-awareness. Additionally it is highly desirable for the coach to support the client as they work to develop an understanding of their underlying beliefs and core values. Once there is an understanding of these beliefs it is easier for the client to take future actions and decisions from a place of strength where their actions are in accord to their beliefs and values. This will ensure that the client is more fully committed to any actions they take and the action has a greater likelihood of success.
Full time or professional athletes live in a world that is structured to allow them to perform at their physical optimum as required for their chosen sport. However the ending of an athletic career often means the ending of that support structure and the onset of major life change. Major life change can often be a catalyst for a range of emotions including fear, stress, depression and potentially for the development of drug or alcohol dependency or abuse. Life coaching if brought in prior to the ending of an athletes career can support the athlete and help ensure that the challenges which could negatively impact on their lives can be minimised or removed from that life.
The successful life coach in this environment must be fearless and strong, they must be able to create a safe, non-judgemental space and be capable of deploying a range of tools that allow the client to develop self-awareness and to take self directed action.
Sporting Heroes: After the final whistle – BBC TV 2012
Sport Psychology Interventions: Shane M Murphy editor
Roger Hammond: My career – British Cycling coaching conference 2012
Articles / Research papers:
Repercussions of transition out of elite sport on subjective well-being – Yannick Stephen, Jean Billare, Gregory Ninot & Didier Delignieres. School of Sports Sciences & physical education, University of Montpellier
Life after sport: Athletic career transition and transferable skills – McKnight. Journal of excellence – issue 13
Athletes transition from sport to family life – Official document of the IOC athlete career transition programme
Career transitions in competitive sports – Paul Wylleman, David Lavallee, Dorothee Alferman. European federation of sports psychology