It can be difficult for professional athletes that are retiring from their sport to leave a successful sporting career behind and move on to a new life. The transition time can cause confusion and a lack of fulfillment.

The retiring athlete may set new goals and establish a new career but they may still miss an important key. This key can be the difference between a successful transition or a loss of purpose and drive. I'm talking about the loss of significance, an important human need as discussed here.

All humans have certain basic needs. According to Abraham Maslow (1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation) there is a hierarchy of needs, in order of importance, as follows:

1. Physiological (breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion)
2. Safety (security of body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property)
3. Love/Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy)
4. Self-Esteem (self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of and by others
5. Self-Actualisation (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts)

By this hierarchy, as long as a lower level need is met, the human will seek to satisfy the next level and the next. Levels 2 to 5 are psychological needs and when they are not met can cause anxiety and distress.

Anthony Robbins teaches six human needs – 4 basic needs being for Certainty, Uncertainty, Significance and Love/Connection plus 2 Spiritual needs being for Growth and for Contribution.

Both discussions on human needs indicate the need for significance, importance and self-esteem. Everybody has their own way of satisfying this need and it can be done positively or negatively. It can be done through achievement or perhaps through notoriety, for example a person may be a bully to feel significant.

Satisfaction of this need for recognition is what can be lost when an athlete retires. I remember talking to a gymnast many years ago that retired after Sydney 2000. She lamented the lack of reward and that she ‘no longer feels important.”

Along with the loss of significance, the athlete may also lose connection with their sporting family and there is often a loss of certainty – what now? All of these factors can play a role in the confusion an athlete feels on the finish of their playing career.

This can explain why some athletes find themelves in trouble and on the wrong side of the law post-sport. Some athletes find themselves in the media for the wrong reasons, getting into fights or desperate publicity stunts.

Recognizing that this loss of significance may occur on retirement can help the athlete to prepare for new ways to satisfy the need. It may not be at the same level, for example being in the media spotlight, but may be replaced by something even more fulfilling including making a difference to the lives of others.

Awareness is the important factor here and being prepared will include setting new goals to give a continued sense of achievement and build confidence.

Author's Bio: 

Annette Huygens Tholen is a former international beach volleyball player and participated in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She experienced the difficulties of transition from sport and is now a Master Results Coach and International speaker using her learnings and experience to empower athletes to reproduce emotional and financial success in their life after sport. Annette also teaches seminars for the world's biggest NLP Coaching and Training Organisation -The Christopher Howard Companies. For more information on how to successfully transition after sport, please visit and find out more.