Athletic Identity: Fabian Cancellara

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Coping with a loss of athletic identity

Swiss cycling legend Fabian Cancellara, also known as Spartacus, won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and plans to retire in the same year, but how will he cope when he’s no longer a champion cyclist?

Coping with a loss of identity is common for athletes at the end of their careers.
And the more their identity is based on their performance, the harder it is to work out where they belong.

A no-man’s land – loss of athletic identity

They have lost their identity. They don’t know where they belong – almost in no man’s land between sport and the “real world”: with a foot tentatively in each camp but not feeling part of either.

The problem is that in order to practice sport at the top level, you need to be totally focused – often to the exclusion of all else. By devoting all your time and attention to one aspect of your life you often don’t develop other interests and feel a massive void when that activity is taken away. After all, if you remove the sport from the athlete, what is left?

Your self-worth diminishes

Feelings that you have no place or value anymore are common. Self-esteem from a young age has been based on sporting excellence. Take the sport away and your self-worth tends to diminish.

Your identity as an athlete does not only affect you. Those around you may have difficulty letting go. It may be your spouse, partner or family questioning where it leaves them or the fans who still want to revel in your former glory. Conflicting interests may make it difficult to turn the page.

The more exclusively you identify with your role of athlete, the harder the transition may be. In order to make the transition smoother, you should consider broadening your horizons and your interests. Just a few minor changes will already help. The earlier you start to do these before you retire, the better it will be – but it is never too late:

If Fabian Cancellara is a well-rounded person with other interests apart from cycling, his transition into sport, although still challenging, will be made easier.

If you are facing retirement after a career in sport and need some advice, contact me. If you’re not sure whether you’re ready for retirement, fill out my questionnaire for a quick heads-up and how prepared you are. LINKS

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