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Elite athletes and retirement: Identity, choice, and agency

Authors

  • Suzanne Cosh,

    Corresponding author
    1. South Australian Sport Institute, Psychology Unit, Kidman Park, South Australia, Australia
    • School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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  • Shona Crabb,

    1. Discipline of Psychiatry, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
    2. Discipline of Public Health, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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  • Amanda LeCouteur

    1. School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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Correspondence: Suzanne Cosh, M.Psych(Clin)/PhD, School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia. Email: suzanne.cosh@adelaide.edu.au

Abstract

Retirement from elite sport can be highly distressing for athletes, and many report experiencing depression and anxiety in adjusting to this transition. In this article, a discursive psychological approach is employed to explore constructions of choice and identity around elite athletes’ retirements within Australian newsprint media. Within these accounts, three ‘types’ of retirements were identified: retirements occurring in relation to age, injury, or active choice. Retiring with individual agency and at an appropriate time was repeatedly privileged, whereas retiring in different ways was routinely problematised. In privileging particular ways of retiring, certain identity positions were made more accessible than others. Consequently, certain actions and choices are deemed appropriate (or not) for athletes, ultimately constraining decision-making around retirement. The implications of such limited identity positions and choices are explored in relation to the psychological distress and clinical concerns that emerge among many athletes in the transition out of elite sport.

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