There is a fascinating article on this site that I found when I was researching for my new business. It refers to the traumatic experience some American football heroes can go through when they retire from the game. Overnight they become a ‘nobody’ or so they believe.
Whether through injury, a drop in performance level, burn out or retirement, the thought of losing the adulation and the public’s gaze can be terrifying for the athlete. And this experience and fear isn’t confined to American football players.
There is a growing number of cases of depression and other mental illness among the elite from many different sports (or certainly a growing number that are being reported). There are even cases of suicide hitting the press; Gary Speed, England footballer and manager, Selorm Kuadey, former England under-20s rugby player, Kōkichi Tsuburaya, Japanese marathon runner and 1964 Summer Olympian, Harold Gimblett, England & Somerset cricketer, to name but a few.
Dealing with a huge change in circumstances, particularly when you go from ‘hero to zero’ or, as some people believe, ‘fame to shame’ can test the most resilient of people to say nothing of the ignominy that some athletes experience. Losing iconic status is a serious problem that needs to be recognised and addressed.
In a sense, it’s like losing one’s identity to the point where one no longer has a clearly defined self-concept; who am I now? Very scary. Some athletes have reported being fearful of this happening long before they leave the game. When you consider so many athletes retire very young and have the prospect of living a further 50 or 60 years it’s little wonder that the issue is, for many, never far away and pops up in their consciousness on frequent occasions.
Time for a Plan B!