If you’re an athlete in your late thirties or early forties (maybe even younger), you have reached a crossroads in your sports career. Suddenly, you find yourself being pulled in two directions: should I retire from the sport I love or not?
This is not an easy question to answer. First off, it has several repercussions not only on your career, but personal life as well. If you retire prematurely, you may find yourself in dire financial straits especially if you mismanaged your funds early in your career. On the other hand, if you decide to give it another shot despite your body’s aches and pains, you may regret taking another physical pounding.
Deciding whether to hang up your sneakers or not is an agonizing decision, to say the least. To avoid regrets, it’s best to cover all the bases. Better yet, try asking yourself these five essential questions before you retire for good.
1.Am I Walking Away from the Game or Is the Game Walking Away from Me?
There’s a world of difference between the two. Perhaps former professional basketball player Malcolm Lemmons said it best: “Walking away from the game is on your terms, when you want and how you want to do it. Having the game walk away from you is the complete opposite.”
This makes a great deal of sense. Nothing feels better than setting the stage for your retirement. Think of recently-retired NBA players Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, icons of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The former played 16 years in the NBA and retired at the age of 37. For his part, the latter laced up his sneakers for 20 NBA seasons and hung them up at the ripe age of 41.
Their common ground: they both retired with a bang. Nearly every NBA arena paid tribute to them on their road trips – hardcore evidence of their sterling reputations around the league. Former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was another example: after winning his second Super Bowl trophy in 2016, he retired just a month short of his 40th birthday. He retired on his own terms so he can spend more time with his wife and twin children.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the last thing you want is the worst-case scenario in Lemmons’ statement. If certain circumstances beyond your control force you to retire, you may regret it for the rest of your life. The best way around is to plan ahead and seek advice from your family, agent, and well-meaning people. When you do that, you will end your athletic career in the best way possible.
The old saying holds true: injuries are an athlete’s worst nightmare. True, the world of sports is unpredictable – you don’t know when the next play will leave you in a crumpled heap on the tennis court, gridiron, baseball field, or skating rink. One misstep is all it takes for one’s career to end with a resounding thud.
Ask yourself if you’re listening to your body. Years of wear and tear take a massive toll on your career. Only a few elite athletes such as Gordie Howe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Satchel Paige, and Phil Nierko defied Father Time because of their discipline and resilience. You don’t have to be as old as they were to enjoy a fruitful career in sports.
If your body sends signals it’s time to slow down and eventually retire, listen to it. When you do, you will preserve not only your health, but your sanity.
When you reach the pinnacle of your athletic career, you may have won a few championships and earned more money than you ever thought possible. You think you’ve already achieved it all. You’re hungry for more. However, you’re also seriously contemplating retirement.
Try setting three goals for yourself in the upcoming season – mentoring younger players, playing a certain number of minutes per game, or preparing yourself for a coaching or broadcasting career after you retire. Anything at all. If you’ve achieved most of your goals, you can call the season a good one. You can now retire on your own terms and walk away from the game you love, like Lemmons said. Nothing beats that feeling.
This could be one of the goals you set for yourself. Many athletes love their sport so much, they decided to remain involved in the game after they retired. Broadcasters such as Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, John Smoltz, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Romo, and Deion Sanders dissect their sport from a unique player’s point of view. On the other hand, coaches such as Doc Rivers, Mike Vrabel, and Aaron Boone knew what it was like to be in the trenches, so their tactics resonate well with their players.
Perhaps you want to be in their shoes someday. Just like them, you have a burning passion for your sport which goes beyond retirement. However, let’s keep it real: their jobs aren’t as easy as they look. When you were a player, all you had to do was report for practice, work your butt off in the training room, play the game, and talk to the media. A huge chunk of free time prior to game time wasn’t uncommon during your heyday.
When you’re a broadcaster, coach, or executive, you work around the clock: you study a lot of film and video. Coaches also must put their players – who have different temperaments – on the same page night in and night out. Is this something you’re ready for? If so, try equipping yourself with the tools you need to succeed. Read books and seek out mentors. When you’ve done your part, you’re ready to retire on your own terms, which is always the best-case scenario for any accomplished athlete.
When you’re about to retire, questions abound. Perhaps no question is trickier than overcoming self-doubt. Many athletes mistakenly think retirement is about enjoying free time to the hilt – time to catch up with long-lost friends, play 18 rounds of golf daily, or lie on the beach all day and do nothing.
Unfortunately, dealing with newfound post-retirement freedom can also result in irritability, loss of purpose, and ultimately, depression. Some athletes handle it well, some don’t. It’s all about knowing yourself. If you belong in the category of retired athletes who hate doing nothing, then preparing for a new career is your best bet.
Whether it’s becoming a coach, entrepreneur, or broadcaster, preparation will help you get rid of those nagging self-doubts. Remember to play to your strengths: if you consider yourself a great speaker, broadcasting could be your ticket to greatness. If you relate well with children, you can become a teacher or coach. The possibilities are endless. If you follow your heart, you will also boost your confidence, for sure.
If you’re a hard-nosed athlete, chances are you didn’t have to go through the dreaded quarter-life phase when adolescents ponder the direction their lives are going. When you were that age, you were busy busting your tail as an athlete.
However, when you’re on the brink of retirement, you have officially reached a crossroads in your life. When you ask yourself if you’re walking away from the game, if you’re listening to your body, what your goals are, if you’re ready to pursue another career, and how are you going to overcome self-doubt, your retirement party will be one of the happiest celebrations in your life.