Ask professional sportsmen about their scariest moments and it’s a fair bet that the same answers will proliferate: first competitive game or match and first attempt at a world title or grand slam or Olympic medal, for example.
Fewer sports stars will talk about their last competitive match, and fewer still will talk about that moment when they realised that they were getting older, or that their body cannot hold up and the only way is slowly, sadly down. Every sportsman experiences it, from the footballer unable to maintain the blinding pace of their early 20s to the boxer stunned by blows that once bounced off his chin.
When the end comes, what next? In the 60s seemingly every retired footballer opened a pub, moved to Spain or became a manager or pundit. Nowadays the proliferation of digital channels and sports websites might enable the latter more easily for any sports. Many footballers start preparing for life after football from their mid-to-late-twenties, perhaps taking their coaching badges while still playing before throwing their hat into the ring for managerial roles.
Another option is becoming a fitness trainer or nutritionist, for obvious reasons.
It can act as a continuation of a sporting career in that it still might take you to the big venues with your clients. You’ll be able to prove that your methods have worked, by drawing on your own sporting knowledge and experience. And it can be a well-paid and interesting job in its own right, benefiting potential stars of the future.
The toughest parts of retiring are losing that buzz of the arena and finding substitutes for filling the day. Some sports such as golf and horse racing might pass into more sedate versions in later life, but a footballer or rugby player with crippling injuries does not have that option. An athlete’s sore, stretched limbs might not cope with the track or road any longer.
The only positive of giving up your career in your mid to late 30s is that you can prepare yourself psychologically, and while some might want to continue a sporting career others might want to make a clean break. The non-athlete can eat and drink what they want and spend more time with their children, while perhaps pursuing a completely new direction in life. Premier League winner Stuart Ripley went to university and became a solicitor. Wigan captain Arjan De Zeeuw became a police detective. Hulking Birmingham striker Kevin Francis joined the police in Canada.
What of those with no warning, whose sporting livelihoods are instantly destroyed by injuries or accidents? There will be a period of readjustment and reflection. Great sadness and bitterness might ensue and unfortunately depression and drink are sometimes by-products.
There’s a temptation to think that ‘it won’t happen to me’, but it does, and not all sportsmen are rich enough to cope. It’s one reason why savings should be put aside, and cover should definitely be taken from Howden or another insurance company.
A strong network of family and friends will cushion the blow, and may be able to suggest alternative work or hobbies, after leaving you for a period to come to terms with the disappointment.
However a career ends, ultimately life must go on even if the sport doesn’t –and most professional sportsmen will definitely have earned the right to take their life in the direction they choose.