“Sports is the only profession I know that when you retire, you have to go to work.” Earl Monroe
If you were told that you will receive more than 35.000 Euros weekly salary, I am sure you would be thinking that great amount of money is “kind of enough” to pay your bills and even have a good life anywhere in the world. But the reality is that for the majority of professional athletes it is not sufficient, according to recent media reports. Thus, apparently, shocking financial setbacks that athletes such as Mike Tyson and Scottie Pippen have suffered are not just isolated cases of this growing problem in the sport business.
Sports Illustrated has found that almost eighty percent of former American footballers and sixty-percent of retired basketball players in United States fall into bankruptcy just two years after retirement. Also in Britain, it has been told that three out of five former English premier footballers become penniless due to bad economic decisions or lack of financial planning.
Big money in naive hands can lead to lavish spending and reckless behavior, transforming former prosperity into a miserable scarcity in extreme cases. But if even well-paid elite athletes struggle with their finances, it is not surprising that an average athlete might have to work on a part-time basis beside the athletic career in order to cover his/her needs.
Athletes invest all their resources such as time, money and emotions into an activity that cannot be performed forever since a typical elite sport career usually lasts eight or ten years on average. Some authors describe this phenomenon as the “Faustian bargain”, which is the best-known example of the widely held belief that talented individuals are special by virtue of their gift and that in order to sustain this gift; they must adhere to some kind of arrangement that requires them to sacrifice the development of excellence in other life domains.
To alleviate that problematic situation, in some countries like Germany, athletes are advised to plan their careers even since the very beginning, and they also are able to get public financial support for both their sport career planning and career retirement assistance from a professional consultant.
“Making the Jump” in United States and “The retired athlete” in the Netherlands are other examples of programs that help people to overcome the transition from being an active elite athlete to an ex-elite athlete with a completely different lifestyle.
In some countries, especially where the budget is really limited, athletes either do not have access to the career assistance or there are no experts in the field who provide such a service. Thus, a regular athlete often must work things out by his own, which is not always desirable, since mentoring may be helpful in order to guarantee a better social adjustment to those who quit sport.
But, how could this career retirement assistance help athletes to find a decent job or make good financial decisions whatever the case is? A life development intervention program can be delivered by sport consultants based on the following major aspects; how to transfer the skills learnt during the professional sport career to other work environments and basic foundations of goal-setting which may develop new skills such as planning and awareness about the post-career stage for the athletes.
Lavalle (2005) found that such interventions on career retirement could assist the athletes that need to adjust their lives to their new circumstances. The group which actually received the program scored better than the non-receiver group in aspects such as coping, self-appraisal and awareness about the situation of retirement
In addition to that, during an athlete’s career they obtain a set of life skills which cannot be dismissed, but should instead be transferred to the regular work environment. Performing under pressure, communicating effectively with others, setting and attaining goals, and accepting criticism and feedback as part of learning are some of the life skills learnt during their sport activity which can help them tremendously in working life.
Former elite athletes might be seen as a good investment for society, they possess a variety of skills that are really sought-after for companies, but those abilities need to be polished if athletes want to succeed in the work environment.
All in all, experts advise current athletes to take three actions in order to have a good post-career life: first of all, plan your career from the beginning. Secondly, save money for the future, and thirdly seek professional help. Needless to say, the end of the athletic career cannot be the end of the athlete´s life, but the fuel that should boost further actions to a valued post-career life.