It is said that a professional sports performer dies twice, the first time when they retire from playing, the second being the inevitable.
Having dedicated your life to your sport, it`s all over, and every aspect of your previous life has gone with the blink of an eye. In virtually all cases these performers are still young as the average age of leaving professional cricket is 26. So what happens when your time comes to an end, and you`ve made so many personal sacrifices to pursue dreams of individual and team successes?
History tells us that for decades any support that existed for ex players from former clubs or governing bodies was found to be, at best reactive, rather than proactive. Things have certainly improved, but like everyone else, they are also searching for a smoother transition for players. However, If I had a dime for every time I`ve heard an advisor voice opinions which would never deal with the realities, then I`d be living in a house on the hill. Folk need to wake up to the fact that we are all different.
One tends to hear the voices of the chosen few who retain some sort of income from the game or those employed within the media – Perhaps they are the wrong people to comment – Go and find those who are confronted with the cold light of day – Like the ones who at best may be able to earn a few dimes over the next summer or two in the lower leagues whilst searching for something meaningful to bring in money.
Constant reminders of what`s gone can be the loss of the changing room and it`s often vibrant camaraderie, whilst the professional sport road show continues publically in their absence. Members of the public continuing to bring up your previous occupation in conversation can sometimes grind. If you`ve been lucky enough to be part of something which brought home a lot of silverware then the reminders crop up all the time.
Sometimes it seems impossible to escape these reminders of the past. Cricketer Andrew Flintoff, footballer Paul Gascoigne and boxer Frank Bruno are just a few sportsmen who sought help with their mental health when their careers concluded. One would think that personalities with such high profile and careers would find the transition relatively easy, especially as they have the best representation – However, if you look closely you`ll see that these things can often count for little. Research indicates the emotional effect of a career loss affects those who won a lot of trophies and are remembered for their involvement in great victories, that they are the ones hit hardest by retirement.
They are even more worrying scenarios such as footballer Gary Speed, a man who seemingly had the world at his feet. Speed appeared to have successfully made the transition from playing sport into management, then out of nowhere he suddenly hung himself. German goalkeeper Robert Enke threw himself in front of a train after leaving a suicide note in his car. Justin Fashanu was one of the soccer`s first million pound players, yet he took his own life aged 37 just a year into retirement.
Swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, suffered severe depression after calling time on his career after the 2012 Olympics. Phelps went home, stayed alone in his bedroom for the best part of a week, contemplating suicide. Things went one stage worse in the case of Russian judoka Elena Ivashchenko, who died by suicide after failing to win a gold medal at the same Olympics.
In a way the global Covid lockdown gave the general population a little taste of a completely forced work and lifestyle change – Look at how the public dealt with lockdown, check the stats – It wasn`t easy, was it? All the things that had been taken for granted were either unattainable, or more restricted, but most importantly most of life’s decisions weren’t theirs any more. – Plenty of folk employed in cricket lost their careers either just prior to, or during the pandemic. It will have been a nightmare as there was no “real world” to enter!