Article:

Planning for life after sports: balance and networking

21 January 2022

William Tuffley, Partner, Business Services |

For many athletes their focus is on immediate gains and short-term goals. Athletes often fall into the trap of living in the moment while only focusing on the next training session, game or competition. Many athletes don’t think about what happens after, whether their career runs successfully for decades and they are welcomed into the hall of fame, or tragically cut short by injury.

The average Olympian is between 20 and 25 years of age. Nearly all Olympians are at the peak of their career while under the age of 40, with the average athlete retiring at 33. What do athletes do when their time performing at the height of their career is over?

Identity crises, depression, and financial instability

Athletes tend to find their identity being tightly wound into their chosen sport or area of athletic competitiveness. To everyone around them they are known as “Carrie the swimmer” or “Gerald the rugby star.” Whether their career draws to a natural end or is abruptly cut short, transitioning into a new life can be unbalancing and incredibly difficult to navigate.

A retired athlete’s mental health is significantly at risk, as they are no longer performing what they are known for and don’t have the strict training schedule to keep them occupied. This means many of their previously self-defining activities come to an end which can also mean losing contact with the support networks they engaged in these activities with. New negative habits can then form without their sporting goals helping to guide their daily actions.

Besides enduring an identity crisis, athletes may also find themselves without many prospects and their finances in disarray. Failure to plan for a future beyond sports can be extremely damaging long-term, which is why some sports organisations are working to recognise and promote further education as part of a well-rounded life that also includes a commitment to athleticism and competition.

Financial planning for a sustainable future 

Athletes who put as much time into their education as their chosen sport are making plans for their future beyond their love of the game. There are a plenty of examples in the current sporting landscape of players who are studying a variety of disciplines, including business, physiotherapy, construction, psychology, exercise science, and finance.

The Australian Institute of Sport invests heavily in their athlete’s future by offering university scholarships and education grants, creating referral networks, and offering work placement programs.

At the age of 24 and the winner of the 2021 NRL Academic Player of the year, Tom Trbojevic is planning for the future after his professional sporting career by playing for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles while also studying a Bachelor of Applied Finance and Economics.

Focusing on assets outside of sport

For some though, education may not be the best answer and for those in this category, they should focus on additional assets which can carry them through to their later stages of life. Building deep personal and professional networks and creating community links to drive sustainable success can deliver significant rewards.

The benefit of a powerful network of supportive friends, industry professionals, and contacts with future business opportunities can make the transition into “normal life” much less fraught. These connections help retiring athletes find work in other fields and remain tied to a community.

Financial planning is a crucial part of surviving after a sports career. Understanding your income and net worth and creating a budgeting plan can help safeguard an athlete’s financial future long after their days of active competition. Financial education during the early years of a career is the key to financial freedom in their later years.

Our team of advisers work with athletes at all stages of their sporting career. Taking action while still ‘in the game’ can ensure athletes remain central to their career decisions and are equipped for long-term financial sustainability. To learn more about setting financial goals and creating a plan for life after sports, contact your local BDO adviser today.