By Margie Sugarman
Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many athletes face depression after their career is over. What’s your best advice to a newly retired athlete on how to adjust to a new lifestyle? What are some of the common difficulties they will face in their adjustment period?
For individuals who have dedicated their lives to riding and being involved with horses, what happens when their time comes to an end? If you’re not a rider, then who are you?
Equestrians often train extensively for years — in many cases consuming the majority of their young lives with their parents (or themselves) making huge financial sacrifices in order to pursue their dreams. They often live on the road for a large part of the year and might find themselves sacrificing personal relationships in the process.
For many riders, leaving the competitive arena is a concept they don’t wish to think about in any great detail. However, whether they have or haven’t reached their goal in the sport, all athletes’ careers will eventually come to a close or a change in venue.
What happens to these athletes once they leave the days filled with rigorous training, extensive time spent traveling and the buzz and adrenaline flowing through their bodies from competing? Individuals experience this time with various feelings. Some are very susceptible to depression. It’s the let-down and the change from what they’ve known for so long along with the fear of the unknown and the question of, “What’s next? What will I do without my friends?” Others will be filled with excitement as they go on to new ventures in life without the burden and pressure of competing.
Many athletes struggle with adapting to a “regular lifestyle” where they’re no longer in the limelight. Moreover, in their eyes, they’re no longer “special.” Moving on from an intense athletic career can induce dramatic changes in one’s personal and social life. In turn, this can potentially impact individuals on a cognitive, emotional and behavioral level. Some “retired” athletes express feelings of emptiness and true depression. Consequently, one of the most important parts of this transition is to reconstruct and adjust oneself on the basis of building a new lifestyle. There are several techniques to help create a new foundation:
- Identify transferable skills: Perhaps the “retired athlete” will go on to study and earn a degree. The skills they’ve developed through their riding career — perseverance in attaining something desired, hard work, adaptability and performing under stress — are all important attributes in school and in life.
- Develop and pursue other activities: So much of the athlete’s life has been centered on riding. The time to try new things, discover other activities, hobbies or interests is now. To use the energy that was directed towards riding and pave some new paths can be fun and exciting.
- Develop new relationships: As one expands their area of interests, new people are met. Just like with riding, new relationships can and will develop.
- Consult with a professional to help explore further avenues and adaptation techniques: Athletes, by nature, are mentally tough individuals. This attitude can sometimes interfere with them approaching someone for help. Consequently, it’s very important for close family, friends, other athletes and coaches to understand that depression cannot always be seen and the athlete may never admit to it.
Changes happen in all parts of life and most of us are able to cope well if we have plans, strategies and adequate support to ease the transition from one part of life to another. Athletes are no different and will need time, social and emotional support and sometimes professionals to help them on their way to continued success.