Updated: May 30
Retirement from swimming is an emotional and physical rollercoaster. Elite swimmers dedicate years to training their bodies and minds to compete at the highest level. They endure grueling schedules, intense physical demands and challenging mental stress. Swimming is not just a hobby, it is a way of life, and their identity is often closely tied to the sport. Retiring from swimming means giving up the thing that has defined them for so long.
It also means relinquishing the built-in structure that the sport provides. The "system" of swimming gives athletes accountability, structure, and motivation. It affords them the ability to move through life on autopilot, with little energy spent on creating their own routine. Additionally, swimmers have a built-in support system of fellow athletes who push through the same pain barriers. But what happens when all of this goes away?
For many retired swimmers, the challenge lies in finding a new sense of purpose and identity. They have to explore new interests and figure out what they want to do with their lives. This can be a daunting task, especially if swimming was the only thing they knew.
It's not just the emotional challenges that retired swimmers face; the physical adjustments can be equally as difficult. The body is used to the intense training and endorphins that come with swimming, and adjusting to a new routine can be tough. The body may no longer be in top physical shape, and it can take time to adjust.
Retired swimmers need to give themselves time and grace to adjust to their new lives. It's crucial to be kind to themselves and acknowledge that it's okay to feel lost, sad, or uncertain. It's worth noting that many of these athletes were at the top of their game, and entering a workforce where their skills are underdeveloped can be disheartening. Starting over can feel like a defeat for many, but it's important to remember that adjusting takes time, and it's okay to take it slow.
For thirty years, I have watched athletes transition out of sport. Retiring from your sport is a significant transition, and it's crucial to approach it like financial retirement. Forward thinking is key, so start making small investments in your retirement along the way. Invest in developing vocational skills outside of swimming, building relationships, envisioning a life without the sport, and learning about how health factors such as endorphins, thyroid, and adrenal glands can impact your transition. Making these small investments along the way can pay off in a big way when it's time to transition out of the sport.
Prepare to retire before it's time and your transition will be immensely easier.