A significant contribution to a reflective understanding of athlete transitions in sport

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Christian Augustsson
Sport Studies, Karlstad University


Deborah Agnew (ed.)
Athlete Transitions into Retirement: Experiences in Elite Sport and Options for Effective Support
214 pages, hardcover
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2022 (Routledge Psychology of Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity)
ISBN 978-0-367-43286-7

Transition periods in sports and specifically retirement have been highlighted as challenging in terms of psychological distress. If an athlete handles this transition well, then life after sports will be easier. However, if athletes have difficulty managing the transition, then it can cause crises and negative consequences in life after sports. It is within this framework this volume mirrors athlete transitions into retirement related to the field of elite sports.

This body of work, edited by Deborah Agnew, is a collaboration of research from several leading scholars and experts around the world with a focus on athlete transitions into retirement. All contributors are well acquainted with the world of sports and have in-depth knowledge and broad perspectives within this field; therefore this book represents a significant contribution of knowledge for researchers, students, and practitioners in the world of sports.

The book is divided into three parts, and 14 chapters, which focus on (I) Socio-cultural and psychological aspects of athlete retirement transition; (II) Supporting athletes transitioning into retirement; and (III) Contextual insights from global sports. further. Each chapter contains a specific section with practical implications in relation to the discussed research.

Editor Deborah Agnew is first author out in this volume, and she gives an introduction that provides the reader with a short and distinct picture of the book’s design and content. Agnew highlights the importance of the circumstances surrounding the athlete retirement into a life after sports and how these play an important role in the transition processes. She also emphasizes how voluntary retirement from sports leads to a smoother transition compared to being forced into retirement through injury or deselection. From this perspective it is apparent that voluntary retirement leads to higher life satisfaction in life after sports. Hence, research discussed in this body of work indicates that retirement should be seen as a process rather than a single moment, and around two years is a typical period of time for a way out of sports. Although many athletes feel loss during this period, most will still be able to get through this problematic change and build a new life after sports.

However, the book offers a significant contribution of knowledge to this field and especially for those who in one way or another have an interest in advanced knowledge and in-depth understanding of issues related to athlete transitions in sport.

Each chapter in this volume contributes with an in-depth overview of the state o knowledge in different specific areas of transition into retirement, where relevant studies, discussions and practice-related questions provide a good knowledge base from the field. The authors’ combined competence and expertise also provides a skilled guidance in the practical implications on how to meet and handle the processes around transitions into retirement.

An interesting example of this is chapter 5, “Exploring Transitions in UK Professional Football” by Alan Tonge, in which the author elaborates the results from five semi-fictional case studies.  The case studies present differing contextual scenarios with professional football players with focus on the phase of transition into retirement. Further, Tonge also discusses how you as a coach can think and work with these issues in practice to lay the best foundation for athletes to meet a new life after sports.

Chapter 6, “Athlete Identity and Career Transition” by Suzanne M Cosh also offers a competent review that highlights key findings in relation to athlete identity and retirement. The author addresses how a high-profile athlete identity can be linked to depression and anxiety following retirement. These patterns is seen across performance levels and are also observed amongst para-athletes in retirement from disability sports. Hence, this chapter in its implications for practice emphasize that a lack of identity outside sports is problematic, which stresses the need to create and promote a broader identity throughout athletes’ careers.

An additional interesting contribution in the book is chapter 9 by Patricia Lally & Richard Lally, which focuses on the role of parents, since parents often are responsible for introducing their children to sports and encouraging an interest in exploring athletic opportunities. This chapter centers on key areas that warrant further research, as well as highlighting the need for pre- and post-retirement interventions for parents, especially the ones of elite competitive athletes. Therefore, it is evident that a greater understanding is needed regarding that athletes do not go through the exit from sports process alone.

Successful athlete transition: Vitali Volodymyrovych Klitschko, former professional boxer, now Mayor of Ukrainian capital Kyiv. (Shutterstock/Sharomka)

In this body of work we can also find a contribution by Andreas Küttel that has a scoop on the influence of the cultural context of the transition out of elite sports in Europe by comparing national cultural contexts of Swiss, Danish and Polish athletes. This chapter highlights how athletes from different countries have different types of support services regarding athlete career transitions and consequently follow diverse career trajectories. It was also shown in this chapter that national culture is influential in relation to athletes’ perceptions of their athletic identity, status in the society, and their view on their own transition into retirement of sports. Given this, athlete career transition patterns are more culturally situated then we tend to acknowledge.

The book clearly has its merits in that it holds a solid body of knowledge in each chapter. This work will be able to help the majority of stakeholders who are affected by athletes’ processes linked to life after sports. Yet, some sections are challenging as the chapters’ knowledge overviews in specific problem areas require alert reading to follow the elaboration of key factors. However, the book offers a significant contribution of knowledge to this field and especially for those who in one way or another have an interest in advanced knowledge and in-depth understanding of issues related to athlete transitions in sport.

To sum up and highlight some of the most apparent contributions in this volume: There is not only one way to experience retirement transitions in sport. Although there can be similar components found in these processes, still athlete transition experiences are unique. Therefore, it is necessary for a successful retirement from sports not to design intervention programs based on a one size fits all approach. Writes Agnew,

It is when we take a lifespan approach that encourages the whole individual and the entirety of their experiences that we can be in the best position to support athletes as they leave professional sport.

In conclusion the challenges in relation to transition from elite sports are most certainly complex and can be problematic to handle. However, this body of work, edited by Deborah Agnew, provides the support needed today to better care for athletes in the middle of their transitions, and also to those who not yet have faced the problems of their upcoming processes related to athletes’ transitions into retirement from elite sports.

Copyright © Christian Augustsson 2023

Table of Content

Introduction: Athlete Transitions in Sport
Deborah Agnew

Part 1: Sociocultural and psychological aspects of athlete retirement transition

      1. The Influence of the Cultural Context on the Transition Out of Elite Sport in Europe
        Andreas Küttel
      2. Psychosocial Aspects of Sport Retirement among Collegiate Student-Athletes in The United States
        Ashley Brauer
      3. The Professionalisation of Paralympic Sport and Implications for the Retirement Experiences of Paralympians
        Andrea Bundon
      4. Considering the Connections Between Doping and Transitions Out of Sport: Desperate Times and Desperate Measures?
        Laurie Patterson
      5. Exploring Transitions in UK Professional Football
        Alan Tonge
      6. Athlete Identity and Career Transition: Implications for Retirement Outcomes
        Suzanne M. Cosh
      7. Retirement through Injury: A Case Study Approach Exploring Mental Health. Issues and the Retirement Experiences of Two Ex-English Premier League Footballers
        Thomas A. Buck

Part 2: Supporting athletes transitioning into retirement

      1. Delisted Footballers: Supporting Well-being through Continued Participation in State Based Levels
        Deborah Agnew and Elizabeth Abery
      2. Understanding Parents’ Experiences with Athlete Retirement
        Patricia Lally and Richard Lally

Part 3: Contextual insights from global sports

      1. The Next Logical Step? An Examination of Elite Athletes’ Transitions into Post-athletic High Performance Coaching Roles
        Alexander D. Blackett, Adam B. Evans, and David Piggott
      2. Time’s up! Indigenous Australian Sportsmen and Athlete Transitions
        Megan Stronach
      3. Transitions in Disability Sports
        Jeffrey Martin and Eva Prokesova
      4. A Holistic Perspective to Elite Athletes’ Career Development and Post-Sport Career Transition in an African Context
        Tshepang Tshube, Leapetswe Malete, and Deborah L. Feltz
      5. Autobiographical Insights into Athlete Transitions from Sport
        Kitrina Douglas
      6. Conclusion
        Deborah Agnew
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