The Exploration of Adjustment during the Retirement Transition from Collegiate Athletics: A Qualitative Study

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The challenges that face student-athletes when they retire from formal sport participation coincides with their loss of their athletic identity (how much they identify with their athlete role), often geographic

The challenges that face student-athletes when they retire from formal sport participation coincides with their loss of their athletic identity (how much they identify with their athlete role), often geographic upheaval, uncertainty of the future regarding alternate roles, and change in social support systems, which make this period more difficult to adjust to. This study explored the experiences of the retirement transition of graduating student-athletes. The current study aims to examine this unique experience through qualitative investigation into the collective experiences of student-athletes to identify overarching relevant themes common throughout this experience. The participants were 13 student-athletes who graduated in the Spring Semester of 2017 (May- June 2017), played their sport at a National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Institution at the Varsity level, and were not continuing to play their sport at the elite level. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants between five and eight months post-graduation. Thematic analysis was used to categorize participants’ responses and allow for an in-depth investigation of different factors affecting personal adjustment throughout this period. The five overarching themes identified were: the need for social connection, the impact of a goal-oriented mindset, preparedness for the transition, translatable skills from being a student-athlete, and the perspective of their own identity and purpose. The ability to shift perspective to retrospectively appreciate the student-athlete experience, while incorporating it as one part of their overall life journey, is discussed as a protective factor for positive transition outcomes. As the large majority of collegiate athletes do not continue to play their sport professionally, this population is in high need of continued guidance. The present work can inform interventions to aid student-athletes in this difficult transitional period. Mentorship from previously graduated student-athletes, coaches, or administrative programs are suggested as a tangible positive intervention strategy based off of the results.