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CAreer transitions in sport for athletes

Interactive Educational Resource


Case Study


Understanding Career Transitions


Development & Skills Transferability


Selection & Deselection


Athletes may find career transition difficult in sports, becoming vulnerable to experiencing depression, identity crises, alcohol/substance abuse, decreased self-confidence, and eating disorders following retirement (Wylleman et al. 2004). This educational resource is crafted for athletes departing sporting environments. Shining a light on the monumental change in an athlete's life, assisting them to comprehend and cope with transition.

Understanding athletic career transitions are important because athletes' physical conditions irreversibly deteriorate, limiting their ability to perform consistently in their sport, eventually resulting in exiting of the sport. (Balmer et al 2005)This can have negative impacts on their welfare due to the emotional bond they have developed with it.

Transition ~ "an event or non-event that causes one's assumptions about oneself and the world to change, necessitating a corresponding change in behaviour and relationships."

(Schlossberg 1981)

Understanding Career Transition into Sport

The mechanisms that result in the development of elite athletes are not well understood. According to Kavanagh (2014), athletes may exhibit long-term involvement, investment, and devotion to a sport when they become attracted to and socialised within it.Parents are thought to be the child's primary socialisation facilitators in their early years, but by adolescence, when peer, coach, and teacher influence becomes more important, that influence decreases.

Not every athlete has early exposure to their sport; for some, access to talent transfer programmes or exposure to new chances later in their athletic career might pave the way for subsequent participation. This is referred to as a mature-age introduction or a fast-track non-traditional approach into performance (Vaeyens et al. 2009). Who influenced the sports you interact with and participate in? Why?

Understanding Career Transition out of Sport

The adjustment process is impacted by a number of crucial aspects during a transition, including role shift, the source of the transition, timing, initiation, and duration of the transition.Gradual changes are simpler for people to adjust to because they allow time to get ready for the next big change. Furthermore, there is less emotional upheaval during a transition when the person initiates it (Mcknight 2005).

Athletes should be provided with a lifecycle perspective to comprehend athlete growth within a sport. Wylleman and Lavallee contend that players should be equipped to manage changes throughout their careers.This has led to a more comprehensive knowledge of the athletic lifetime concept, where players must manage transitions throughout their time competing. (Alferman & Stambulova 2007)While there is a wealth of information regarding the challenges that athletes suffer from while leaving sports, less is known about the transitions that athletes must endure throughout their careers (Wylleman and Lavallee 2004).

Ryan Gonsalves - Athlete Career Transitions


You're in, you're out..

Astonishingly, little research has been done on this intricate process in sports, especially considering the importance of selection to the athlete and the profound effects it can have on their life and career at the highest levels of competition. "This is a structured procedure whereby individuals strive to secure a position as a designated performer for a specific squad, competition, or event during a training cycle or playing season." Kavanagh (2014). Athletes often consider being selected to be one of their greatest accomplishments, and being rejected to be one of their biggest disappointments.

Have you ever been through a selection porcess?Successful?Unsuccessful?What were the primary feelings around the final decision?What secondary emotions did you experience?If you haven't, why do you think this could be a challenging period?

How to react

In the context of sports, it is recognised that athletes may experience anxiety throughout the selection process, possibly leading to organisational stress. (Kristiansen and Roberts, 2012).Organisational stressors are the environmental demands that an individual associates with an organisational experience (Fletcher, Hanton, and Mellalieu (2006).Research regarding how selection affects athletes examines it as a career transition - non-normative or involuntary transitions.A non-normative transition is typically (Wylleman et al. 2004):
  • unplanned
  • unexpected
  • involuntary and does not follow a predetermined plan.

At the highest level, an athlete's life may be significantly impacted if they are not chosen for a squad, which might result in their career being terminated.Per Kavanagh (2014), in her research with professional athletes, participants recognised that being chosen merely signifies the beginning of the journey. . Some believe that stress always exists, however it is heightened at selection periods.

"Selection is therefore the ultimate target for an athlete" (Kavanagh 2014).

The impact & coping


primary appraisal

secondary appraisal

types of coping

model of stress and coping process


Impact is directly influenced by the person, how they appraise the circumstances, and the decision of the selection. Timing, decision process, individual impact perception, and decision understanding can all affect one's ability to cope.

Coping: "A process of continuously shifting behavioural and cognitive efforts to manage particular conflicts or demands, either internal or external, that are evaluated as taxing or exceeding one's resources" (Lazarus and Folkman 1984, p.141).




understanding the decision

Athletes must comprehend the reasoning behind decisions in order to cope, regardless of the ultimate outcome.Athletes can find it difficult to handle selection if they feel that the coaching and support staff has not given them enough notice or consideration when making the decisions. Even after being cut from a squad, athletes need to feel appreciated. One way to do this may be to provide them a clear action plan that outlines what they must do to qualify for a spot.



Transferable skills are those that athletes have acquired through competition that they can apply to other areas of their life and careers outside of sports.

(Mayocchi & Hanrahan, 2000).


stambulova (2014)

development & skills transferability

Skills transferability

Multiple, quality transferable skills exist in athletes (Danish et al. 1993):
  • Ability to perform under pressure,
  • Organisational skills,
  • Capacity to meet deadlines and challenges,
  • Set and achieve goals,
  • Adaptability and flexibility,
  • Recognising limitations,
  • Patience, self-motivation
  • Dedication
Sinclair & Orlick declared the importance of siding with career transition over termination due to research publishing athletes interests in discovering how to transfer their mental skills into their new caeers (Sinclair & Orlick, 1993)Danish et al published that positive adjustment to transition is heavily negotiated with three main charactersistics that should be identified and exploited: a) awareness of the traits or abilities that can be applied in the new environment,(b) knowledge of how transferable skills are developed in sport,(c) the perceived result of applying transferable skills to a new setting—affect positive adjustment to transition, according to Danish et al. (1992).

Stambulova's framework

What Skills Do You Possess That You Could Transfer To A New Career?



For athletes to successfully transition and deal with the aftermath of an event, the counselling profession can be instrumental (Danish, Petitpas, & Hale, 1992). Assisting and creating room for personal growth from experiences are the goals of counselling.In today's hyper-competitive society, athletes should look to utilize any educational and/or wellfare support services to transition to the best of their ability.The PFA specializes in private support services, providing discounted courses and 24/7 support exclusively for present and past professionall footballers.


MAthieu Flamini

Biochemical entrepreneur

The successful ex professional footballer is proof that career transitions can be arguably more noteworthy than the sporting career itself. Key factors helping Mathieu transition careers was his awareness, companioned with determination for other passions.

GF Biochemicals


characteristics to drive change

the story

No - It's not the end

Whilst such factors exist that an athlete can not control (physical deteriation or selection), the emphasis should be on helping the athlete to focus on what they can control. Certain feelings and emotions can not be prevented following career transition, however, this educational resource has highlighted how you as an athlete can give yourself the platform to thrive in any circumstances. The focus should be positve transition, not disastrous termination.

Mayocchi, L. and Hanrahan, S. J. 2000. Transferable skills for career change. p.95-110

Danish, S. J., Petitpas, A. J., & Hale, B. D. (1992). A developmental-educational intervention model of sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 6, 403-415.

Kristiansen, E. Murphy, D. Roberts, G. (2012) Organizational Stress and Coping in U.S. Professional Soccer. JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY, 24: 207–223,

Kavanagh, E. J., 2014. The Dark side of sport: athlete narratives on maltreatment in high performance environments. Doctoral Thesis (Doctoral). Bournemouth University.


Fletcher, D., Hanton, S., & Mellalieu, S. (2006). An organizational stress review: Conceptual andtheoretical issues in competitive sport. In S. Hanton & S. D. Mellalieu (Eds.),Literature reviews insport psychology(pp. 321–373). New York: Nova Science Publishers

Lazarus, R. Folkman, S. 1984. Stress, Appraisal and Coping

Alfermann, D., & Stambulova, N. (2007). Career transitions and career termination. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (pp. 712–733).

Folkman, S. Lazarus, R. 1991 .The Concept of Coping. Stress and coping: an anthology

Danish, S. J., Petitpas, A. J., & Hale, B. D. (1993). Life development intervention for athletes: Life skills through sport. The Counseling Psychologist, 21, 352-385.

Balmer, J., Potter, C.R., Bird, S.R., & Davison, R.C. (2005). Age-related changes in maximal power and maximal heart rate recorded during a ramped test in 114 cyclists age 15–73 years. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13(1), 75-86

Lazarus, R. S. (2000). How emotions influence performance incompetitive sports.The Sport Psychologist,14, 229/52.

Lazarus, R. S. (1999).Stress and emotion: A new synthesis. London: Free Association Books.

Vaeyens, R. Gullich, A. Warr, R. Philippaerts, R. 2009. Talent identification and promotion programmes of Olympic athletes. p.1367-1380

Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transi-tions in sport: European perspectives.Psychology of Sport andExercise,5(1), 7–20.

Sinclair, D. A., & Orlick, T. (1993). s from high-performance sport. Sport Psychologist, 7, 138-150.

Schlossberg, K. 1981 , A Model for Analyzing Human Adaptation to Transition, p.2-9

Nicholls, Ar. & Polman, RCJ. 2007 - Journal of sports sciences.

Mcknight, K. 2005. Athletic career and transferable skills, p.1-155

Stambulova, N. Ryba, 2014. Athletes' Careers Across Cultures

Taylor, J & Ogilvie, B. 1992. A conceptual model of adaptation to retirement among athletes. p.1-20


Nicholls, A. Holt, N. & Polman, R. 2005. A Phenomenological Analysis of Coping Effectiveness in Golf. Vol 19: Issue 2, p.111-130

The quality and strength of the emotions sparked by a competitive event are believed to be influenced by appraisal, which in turn influences the athlete's attitude and performance (Lazarus & Folkman, 1991).

Cognitive assessments play a key role in the coping process since they mould coping reactions, which in turn impact ongoing assessments (Lazarus 2000). Primary and secondary appraisal are the two stages of the assessment process (Lazarus and Folkman 1984).

Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) basic model for stress and coping processes when a stressor is encountered.

The process where a person considers their options for coping, determining whether or not they will cope (Lazarus 1999). At this point, the individual assesses their options and the resources at their disposal in order to handle the demands (Lazarus 2000). Coping mechanisms are needed when situations are deemed difficult, dangerous, or damaging (Holt et al. 2005).

Secondary Appraisal

Macro level coping strategies (Nicholls & Polman 2007):

  • Problem-focused ~ change the circumstances (goal setting).
  • Emotion-focused ~ address the emotional suffering
encountered (imagery and confidence development).
  • Avoidance ~ withdrawing oneself from the circumstance. Behavioural (physical removal from the stressor), cognitive (blocking, ignoring).
  • Approach ~ facing the cause of stress, making a conscious effort to address or lessen it.
  • Appraisal-focused ~ reassessing a situation to lessen its significance and restructuring it.
*These have been criticised for being too broad and failing to demonstrate the complexity of coping.*

Primary Appraisals

Primary appraisal is the evaluation of the potential significance of an event for the person’s wellbeing (Holt et al. 2005). Lazarus and Folkman (1984) proposed three types of primary appraisal: Irrelevant appraisals - situations that are evaluated as neither threatening or harmful, nor of potential benefit to the individual.Benign-positive appraisals - related to potential enhancement of wellbeing.Stressful appraisals - occur when the individuals evaluation concludes that there is a substantial threat.