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Elite Athletes Struggle in Transition to Real World

Stories abound of professional athletes having difficulty integrating into normal society when they retire.

A new study provides insights on personal characteristics that contribute to the transition difficulties and offers suggestions that may help mitigate future challenges.

Surprisingly, the personality traits that help an individual become an elite athlete are the very characteristics that complicate a successful post-competition lifestyle.

When elite-level athletes retire, they often learn that the characteristics that were valuable in sport are not equally useful in “ordinary” life, say University of Gothenburg researchers. When this occurs they often start experiencing disorientation, depression, self-doubt or even illness.

As part of the study, ex-Olympians from Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Australia were interviewed. All subjects participated in either the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing or the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Some personal characteristics, such as are perseverance and organizational skills, help the athlete move into the common world.

However, characteristics such as perfectionism, hyper-competitiveness, self-centeredness and submissiveness are much less useful and are indeed not desired — at work, in school and in family life.

“Some ex-athletes say that adapting to post-sport life is more difficult than anything they ever experienced as athletes,” said Natalie Barker, Ph.D.,¬†at the University of Gothenburg, who headed the research project.

The study reveals that those who managed to keep some kind of distance to their sport, or who were able to critically reflect on their experiences, were able to develop a more flexible and mature self-image.

Source: University of Gothenburg

Elite Athletes Struggle in Transition to Real World
APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Elite Athletes Struggle in Transition to Real World. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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