Updated: Apr 5, 2019
In the perfect world, every athlete would know the precise time to retire. We would know that exact moment when we are at the peak of it all. We'd be able to leave our sport knowing that we had achieved all we could from it and had risen as high as we could. We would be standing on top of the podium, or setting a world record, winning it all, you get the point. But, this isn't the perfect world. There is no guaranteed way of knowing when to retire.
Why is it so hard to retire as a professional athlete?
There are a lot of reasons why it's so hard to walk away from being a professional athlete. I mean, who wants to give up getting paid to do something they love, that the majority of people will never have a chance at? Here are just a few reasons it is so challenging to walk away:
You can never know when you are really at the top and performing your best. When you have your best season you start wondering if the next one can be even better. You don't want to go out after a bad performance. Maybe your entire season was bad or maybe it was one bad race. Either way, you want to go out showing the world what you are made of so you want just one more shot to get it right. You don't want to leave money on the table. If you can keep making money as a professional athlete it's hard to walk away. It's familiar. Most professional athletes have been focused on their sport since they were a child. It's hard to imagine what life is like after. What do you do when you don't have long days of practice and time with your team?
It's OK if your career ends when it's not at the peak of it all
You might find that the end of your career as a professional athlete is outside of your control. You might not be able to make the team or suffer an injury that does not let you continue on. It's a risk that every professional athlete takes. But, it will be ok. I promise. You don't have to go out on top. When the time comes that you walk away from your sport, whether it is your choice or not, appreciate the time that you had and keep your focus on that.
How to make the transition easier
It's going to be a lot harder to walk away if you have no plan for what you are going to do next. If you had a lucrative career it might sound nice to sit back, rest, and just enjoy life. And, that can be nice for a little while, but it's important to keep in mind that life continues after your athletic career. The transition will be a lot easier if you have a plan before you retire. Do you want to start a business? Get a job? Start a nonprofit? Become a coach? Start working on your plan before you retire so you can make a smooth transition and be ready to rock.
The truth is there are very few athletes that retire when they are on top. It's truly impossible to know when the exact moment is that you have achieved all that you can in the sports world. You either go a little too long or you leave wondering if you could have done more. That's why some athletes come out of retirement to find out if they "still got it". Keep in mind that there is life after your career as a professional athlete. The more you plan for it, the easier it will be to walk away when you decide it's time.