Unlocking the Lessons from Athletes’ Career Transitions

  • Athlete Success Stories
  • Published on October 26, 2023

This summer marked the retirement of former Arsenal and England midfielder, Jack Wilshire, from professional football.

At first glance, this might seem like an ordinary story, but Wilshire's transition from sport to a second career highlights issues that deserve front-page attention. Hanging up his boots at the relatively young age of 30, Wilshire openly discussed the challenge of witnessing his career "slip away" when he believed he still had "so much to give."

Similar sentiments were echoed by British tennis star Laura Robson, who, at just 28, had to bid farewell to her athletic career due to a persistent hip injury. She expressed regret, stating, "I could have done more…If I had just been healthy for another year or two, I don’t know what I could have achieved."

 Wilshire and Robson are not isolated cases: a report by the Professional Players Federation revealed that 50% of athletes feel disoriented within the first two years after retiring from sports. This lack of control over their lives post-retirement has serious implications for mental health, contributing to the fact that 45% of former athletes experience anxiety and depression (International Olympic Committee).

British pentathlete and Olympic silver medallist, Samantha Murray, emotionally struggled to adapt to life beyond the running track. Similarly, the departure from football left Clarke Carlisle in such despair that he attempted to take his own life.

"For the vast majority of players, there is a huge void to be filled. Everything in your life during playing is structured, and all of a sudden, that gets taken away," Carlisle said.

Hidden talents

Despite the psychological challenges athletes face upon retirement, the very attributes cultivated in sports can propel them to success in their subsequent careers.

Jack Wilshire's profound football knowledge finds new life in coaching with the Arsenal U18s team, while Laura Robson’s court intelligence underpins her current media career.

Sam Murray channels her wealth of experience into her work at the British Athletes Commission, and Clarke Carlisle is now a mental health advocate through the Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis, contributing to university workshops and seminars for business leaders.

Broadly speaking, athletes possess immense reserves of resilience, leadership, teamwork, and communication skills, according to a study by Australia’s Curtin University. These transferable skills significantly ease their transition into second careers.

Stay on track

Reflecting on my experience as a company director and former international rugby player, this message resonates with professionals across various fields.

For the millions currently undergoing career transitions globally, it's crucial to draw confidence from the wealth of transferable skills you possess. These skills will play a pivotal role in securing promotions and climbing the career ladder.

The tough part is identifying these abilities and understanding their relevance, so that you can showcase your full value to potential employers. Can you call upon your professional network to endorse your abilities? Can you leverage your competencies to gain qualifications that provide a competitive edge?

Athlete Career Transition

These fundamental questions underpin our work at Athlete Career Transition (ACT), where we help athletes come to terms with retiring from sports. We empower them to recognise that their elite performance talents extend far beyond the sports field.

At ACT, we provide athletes with the necessary support to develop their skills before placing them in business environments where they can thrive.

To learn more about our initiatives, click here.