Despite the delay due to the pandemic, the period before and after Tokyo will be typical of the end of an Olympic and Paralympic cycle, with some athletes evaluating their career and considering the prospect of retirement.
For the athletes who do decide to step away from sport, there are initiatives in place to help manage the transition to ‘normal’ life, such as Lane 4’s Athlete Transition Programme, and here, the BAC’s Athlete Engagement Manager and double Olympian, Kristian Thomas, explains the benefits of taking advantage of the opportunity to discuss moving away from sport.
“I was 27 when I retired from competitive gymnastics, but the prospect of calling time on my career was something I had been considering for around two years beforehand.
“My final major competition was the Olympic Games in Rio and bowing out after an Olympic or Paralympic Games is something I have in common with a lot of athletes. That number will grow again after Tokyo.
“The transition away from sport can be difficult, as – more often than not – an athlete is leaving the only environment they’ve ever known, and embarking on a new journey without the routine and the structure that they’re used to, and with aims and goals which are much less defined than those we look towards as athletes.
“For me, I knew that I needed to have a plan when moving away from gymnastics, and I knew that I needed to find something that I was interested in and inspired by, so that I was able to see retirement as a positive continuation of my life, rather than be consumed by the negative emotion of a big part of my life ending.
“It was at this stage that I began to really explore the support that was available to me. Having conversations about where I saw myself in the future, speaking to ex-athletes who had been through the process, and getting support and advice from within the high-performance system – in particular my Performance Lifestyle Advisor – were all really important aspects of me beginning to build a vision of what post-retirement would look like.
“Retirement is very specific to each athlete, however from my experience, I’d urge all athletes looking at Tokyo as a potential swansong of their careers to start opening their minds up to that bigger picture: explore the possibilities, speak to as many people as possible, and get a feel for the opportunities that could present themselves to you after retirement.
“At the BAC, we’re delighted to work closely with Lane 4 on their Athlete Transition Programme, which helps athletes handle the transition away from sport, whether they have been retired for a matter of days, or several years. The programme – which is free to attend – focuses in particular on the emotional aspect, or identity shift, involved with moving away from your sporting career, and comes extremely highly recommended by past participants.
“This is just one aspect of the support network that is in place. Retirement can be tricky, but the advice, expertise and voices of experience are there for athletes to take advantage of.”