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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

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Elite Athletes Struggle in Transition to Real World. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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