In 2016 the Australian Olympic Committee ran a series of athlete well-being sessions for Rio Olympians contemplating retirement, this is some of what was discussed.
1. Keep on Moving: Retirement from elite sport can be perplexing. On one hand there is the relief from stringent training sessions and a highly disciplined life-style. On the other, there can be a sense of grief that nothing else in life may ever feel as thrilling. Harmonizing mind and body with one’s craft is compelling.
Mark, by staying connected to your running and mountain bike riding, you will continue to produce feel good opioids that come from exercise. Your natural choice being mountain biking may not replace the buzz of motor racing, but will give you the thrill or mastering something equally challenging and unpredictable.
2. Continue Build Structure into Your Days: Many athlete’s by-pass the identity struggles of adolescence because their days are structured with training sessions, competitions and purpose. In retirement, however, they can find themselves confused about who they are, where they belong in the world and many feel lost without this structure.
Mark, your desire to set new goals and challenges will help keep structure in your life and minimise the distress that can come from a loss of purpose.
3. Stay Connected: Sport is always a team effort even when there is only one competitor on the track. The driving emotion of a successful team is optimism, focused in a positive direction, towards a common goal. Science reveals ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ exists, where one person transmits signals that can alter the hormone levels of another, influencing cardiovascular and sleep rhythms, and immune function (Gottman 1993). Positive energy of others can promote emotional stability in athletes, dampening fear and strengthening belief - letting go of residual doubt and focusing in the moment. This is a winning evolutionary design that should be harnessed by all of society.
Many individuals however, experience the feeling of being pulled down to the lowest energy in a group. Where someone else’s negativity, anxiety or frustration influences the energy of the whole room. We literally ‘catch’ the feelings of others. Elite athletes purposely surround themselves with positive likeminded people because they intuitively know ‘we’ mirror the feelings of others.
Mark, you said “sharing your car and chemistry” with your team mates was important to you. Maintain these connections going forward. Look to match your strengths and values with similarly minded people or become an entrepreneur, where you continue to control who is part of your team. And, most importantly, remember to take your loved ones on your journey, your transition also impacts their lives.
Thank-you for a brilliant career, the thrill and excitement you have brought to many Australians and the graciousness by which you have gone about perfecting your craft.
Gayelene Clews, a former elite triathlete is an Olympic Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”. She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions. Clews applies science to success in her “Wired for Success” business workshops where she advocates minimizing burn-out by refueling emotional energy. Contact Gayelene firstname.lastname@example.org. To purchase her book www.wiredtoplay.com.