31 Aug 2021
Olympians and Paralympians returning from Tokyo will be among more than 400 elite Australian athletes to be surveyed as part of research to find factors that both facilitate and inhibit the successful transition into post-sport careers.
USC researchers will conduct the wide-ranging study on behalf of the Australian Institute of Sport to investigate career adaptability in all stages of an athlete’s sporting life.
The research team is led by business academics Dr David Fleischman and Dr Rory Mulcahy and includes USC High Performance Sport Director and head coach of the Australian Paralympic Swim Team Professor Brendan Burkett.
Dr Fleischman, a former competitive swimmer in the United States, said the comprehensive study would provide much-needed further insights into how best to support athletes to overcome difficulties in adapting to new careers after retiring from high-level competitive sport.
“Previous studies have mostly focused on one stage of an athlete’s career – mainly pre or post retirement – and as a result there is little understanding of how career adaptability can manifest as they progress through their sporting lives,” he said.
“At an elite level, there is much emphasis on short-term performance, pressure to win and expectations from the public, all of which can have a detrimental effect on an athlete’s wellbeing and how they transition to a post-sport career.
“Adjusting to life after a sporting career ends is not easy as the loss of identity and career direction can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.”
Focus group discussions will be held with around 30 para and able-bodied athletes from various locations and across a wide range of backgrounds including those at different career stages and educational levels.
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) will assist the research team to recruit an additional 400 athletes for a survey that will examine potential differences across various sports – including team and individual sports – to gauge the impact on career adaptability.
“For example, we want to determine if there are differences for athletes in the early, middle or end stages of their sporting life, and the role that location plays, such as urban versus regional and remote,” Dr Mulcahy said.
Another stage of the project involves a systematic review of current best practice in academic and industry publications on career adaptability programs for elite athletes.
Dr Mulcahy said previous studies had identified gaps in elite athletes’ career maturity and ability to make career decisions and a desire to focus on their sport rather than their future.
Others had found a lack of extensive career planning led to athletes feeling underprepared for work roles outside of sport.
“Our findings will look at the attitudes and abilities people need to best respond and adapt to life and employment post-sport and will inform a suite of delivery approaches for the AIS to advance and support elite athletes,” Dr Mulcahy said.
The research team includes USC’s High Performance Student Athlete Program coordinator Tania Stevenson, Dr Lenny Vance and Dr Peter English.
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