Former athletes experience a turbulent transition from athlete to retiree due to declining mental health, body image and disordered eating. But over the past two years, these neglected struggles for ex-athletes have become too big to ignore.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen significant declines in mental health across national and global populations. But ex-athletes are a unique demographic that is at a much higher risk for worsened body image and disordered eating — especially with the magnified isolation resulting from COVID-19.
For athletes, staying healthy to perform their best is part of the job. This is why they have trainers, physical therapists, nutritionists, and full teams of people to keep them healthy and prevent injuries. However, when they are done entertaining us, representing our schools, or promoting our products, we no longer concern ourselves with their well-being.
A few people and programs are starting to promote ex-athletes in the turbulent time of retiring.
Katie Spada says, “it feels like we’re a baby horse trying to walk, just trying to get our feet back under us.”
Spada is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has built an Instagram account specifically to help former athletes through the identity transition that comes with leaving their sport.
“It really does feel like a mourning process… grieving the life that you had. Grieving the opportunities and the experiences and having to start fresh,” she says.
Amy Van Buskirk says Game Plan, a program for carded Canadian Olympic athletes, is meant to alleviate some of that grieving and help make the transition smoother.
“The most important piece in that transition is having a network and a support system… someone who can walk them through it and say, this is okay, it’s going to get better,” Van Buskirk says.
Although Spada and the Game Plan program are making a difference in ex-athletes’ lives, there’s still a lack of support for most athletes if they aren’t Olympic athletes or don’t have access to adequate resources.
To change this, each sport needs to invest in programs that help its athletes transition from athletics to school, career, or beyond.