Transitioning From Sports to a New Career: Athletes' Guide

Wed 17th May 2023

Every retiring athlete eventually confronts the reality of life after sports, pondering their future career paths.

Transitioning out of professional sports can be a daunting experience. At add-victor, we understand the importance of providing support during this critical phase of change. Having interacted with many former elite sportsmen and women, we have gathered a wealth of knowledge from their personal experiences and valuable insights on making the shift to a new career. In this article, we have compiled the top 10 pieces of advice to guide and empower athletes as they navigate life beyond professional sport. For more on ‘life after professional sports’, see our article on Serena Williams’ retirement.

  1. Athlete Career Transition: Get Started Now

  2. Leverage Your Transferable Soft Skills

  3. Self-Question & Embrace the Emotions

  4. High-Performance: Crave for a Routine

  5. Plan Proactively & Realistically

  6. Being in the Now & Enjoy the Process

  7. Find Somewhere you Can Feel Valued

  8. Networking - Speak to People who Know You & Know the Industry

  9. Don’t Be Put Off by the Jargon

  10. Reposition: Enjoy What You Are Doing


The former athletes behind these recommendations are [non-exhaustive list]... David Denton (Rugby Union), David Wetherill (Table Tennis Paralympian), Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (Olympian Swimmer), Lawrence Clarke (Double Olympian Hurdler), Carmen Lim (Paralympic Swimmer), Ben Onyeama-Christie (Rugby Union), Luke Harding (Canoe/Kayaking), Palmer Foster (American Football), Jesse Menghini (American Football), Luke Baldwin (Rugby Union), Olly Benkert (Captain of England School of Rugby), Tyler Bernardini (Basketball, Leicester Riders).


  1. Athlete Career Transition: Get Started Now

Whether you are currently a professional, university, or any other level sports player, now is the time to get experience and begin growing a network within your desired industry. While you might not know when your sporting career will end, there is no downside in preparing for your future.

Rugby is a high-risk sport and injury could put an end to a career overnight. Reflecting on this reality, Ben Onyeama-Christie stressed that ‘you want to be in the best position possible to move on straight away’. Balancing a degree and playing rugby, Ben sat his CFA Level 1 after he had finished playing rugby. However, he now wishes he had sat the CFA whilst playing, given how busy his timetable is now.

Former Rugby player David Denton also remarked that ‘there is still 80% of your professional life and a bigger percent of your whole life’ after sport, therefore, it is worth being aware of that and investing time in it as soon as possible.


  1. Leverage Your Transferable Soft Skills

Competing or not competing, the athlete’s soft skillset, including the athlete mindset, must carry into your new career. It is essential for athletes to switch the initial feeling of a loss of identity into a new source of personal branding.

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor is an inspiring example of a former Olympic swimmer who has seamlessly integrated her identity as a sportswoman into her current career. She proudly proclaims that she will always be known as ‘Siobhan the swimmer’, a testament to her unwavering commitment to her athletic roots. Drawing on her past experiences and distinctive qualities, she forges ahead toward a bright future. Siobhan's innate desire to take on new challenges remains an integral part of her personality, whether she pursues them within or outside the world of sports.

Similarly, table tennis Paralympian David Wetherill has always seen challenge as an opportunity; ‘at work, I would take the stairs all day long over the lift!’. This willingness and positive attitude are common characteristics found in many athletes.  

The resilience from playing sports will come into play and become a valuable asset when faced with challenging or uncomfortable situations in the workplace. ‘The [corporate] ladder can be just as intense if not more’ describes Paralympic swimmer, Carmen Lim, ‘but ultimately that same resilience will be powering you through your new career’, she adds. Luke Harding, former Canoeist, similarly remarks that ‘the one mindset you need to have to be successful is just persistence’.


  1. Athlete Mental Health: Self-Question & Embrace the Emotions

Understanding yourself is critical to performing at a high level. Through years of intense training and coaching, athletes have learned to handle any mental and emotional hardships; ’this is what sport has given me – a platform to be able to understand myself’, confirms David Wetherill who followed some sport psychology sessions whilst training for the Paralympics. ‘Emotions cloud your judgment a lot of the time and with all the losses in sports it’s all about how you bounce back and deal with change. I’m able to keep a calm head and think things logically’. Dealing with emotion is fundamental in overcoming the pressure and doubts generated by transitioning. Being aware of your mental health and looking after your wellbeing are essential for successfully navigating through this period of transition. 

A soft skill that requires you to question and know yourself deeply. ‘I had to do a lot of self-searching, about who I am, and what makes me happy, I found a lot of that support through my family and friends, as well as by learning about the science of what you are feeling and how my brain and own thoughts works’, recalls Siobhan.

Ultimately, it is all about translating that self-knowledge into a different arena to ensure further career alignment, fulfillment, and performance again.


  1. High-Performance: Crave for a Routine

Structure and routine are embedded in any athlete’s life, from the hours of training to the lifestyle they are committed to following; waking up early, having a constant diet, and sleep,… They develop a sense of structure and time management that they will need to apply in their new lifestyle.

I love structure, having a routine in the day, I enjoy that a lot because it has always been my life since I was a kid’, says Siobhan. ‘Since I’ve retired, I have a big focus on my morning routine and making sure the first hour of my day is productive!’, shares David.

Maintaining physical fitness not only benefits athletes' mental health but also provides an avenue to continue pursuing their passion for sports. ‘I never realised the link between my fitness with my mental health because I’ve always gone to the gym and done it as my job, I’ve never really seen it as a personal benefit. When I stopped playing, I had to do my hip replacement, went to the hospital, and I lost all my fitness - it really got me. It’s important to keep the routine’, confides David Wetherill.

Authors Loehr and Schwartz, who wrote In The Making of a Corporate Athlete (published in the Harvard Business Review), argue that corporate professionals need to develop a routine that addresses their physical, emotional, and mental needs to achieve peak performance.


  1. Changing Careers: Planning Proactively & Realistically

Starting a new job or embarking on a different career path can be overwhelming, but proactive and realistic planning can help alleviate these challenges. One effective strategy is to create visual waypoints and break them down into short-term, achievable goals. Olympic hurdler Lawrence Clarke successfully applied this approach, leveraging his goal-setting skills to transition to a career in asset management, where he now serves as the Managing Director of a Hedge Fund company.

Similarly, the canoeist Luke Harding emphasises the importance of being realistic and prepared for the challenges that come with leaving sports and entering the corporate world. To succeed, he recommends being mindful of potential obstacles, seeking guidance and advice, and taking proactive steps to address any issues that arise.


  1. Being in the Now & Enjoy the Process

Former athletes are finding resonance with the bestselling book "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, which emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment. This advice particularly rings true for athletes who may have sacrificed certain freedoms during their sporting careers and are now seeking new opportunities in life. By embracing the present and enjoying newfound experiences, athletes can cultivate a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose beyond sports.

Marija Mirkovic shares that the best advice she would have offered to her younger self is to enjoy the journey and not be so hard on herself; ‘as a driven individual, you always chase the next progression or the next stepping stone. Sometimes you forget to stop and enjoy the moment’.

As David Denton says, ‘my biggest focus in terms of my mental health and my life, in general, is to be present. To not spend too much time dwelling on the past or about what could have been. To not worry about the future or be impatient with the journey to where I expect to be. I try hard to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. If I am working, with my family, my friends, or out exercising, I try to be 100% there and not blur the lines’.

Additionally, Luke has found meditation to be a valuable tool for achieving clarity and refocusing. By taking a step back and practicing mindfulness, athletes can overcome challenges and maintain a positive and healthy outlook.


  1. Jobs for Athletes: Find Somewhere You Can Feel Valued

Creating a sense of belonging and value in the workplace is crucial for athletes transitioning into a new career. Luke Baldwin, a former Rugby Union player, found common ground with his boss, who is also ex-military. This shared experience enabled him to better appreciate the challenges of moving from one environment to another. According to Luke, his boss recognised the value of skills learned from being an ex-athlete, which can contribute to creating a high-performing workplace culture.

By finding supportive environments that value their unique skill sets, athletes can successfully adapt to their new careers and continue to excel.

Tyler Bernardini’s main piece of advice is to ‘be honest with yourself’ and ‘find the right cultural fit’ for you as a person. A lot of your time will be spent with colleagues, so make sure you see yourself slotting into the environment.


  1. Networking - Speak to People Who Know You & Know the Industry

One highly invaluable tool in getting any career is networking and gaining contacts within the industry you want to go into. Second to this, it is useful if your contacts also have knowledge of you and the skills you can bring to the business.

David Denton suggests one thing that may help is widening your network, so when you leave sport you have contacts that know your skillset well. Unsure of what sector he wanted to work in when he left, David ensured he met with people to get the best advice possible; ‘I had no idea what I wanted to do, what sector, what roles, so sitting in front of somebody who knows what I would and wouldn’t like was very valuable’.


  1. Don’t Be Put Off by the Jargon

When starting a new corporate job, it can be disorientating meeting new people, new workplace, and what’s more, they are all speaking a ‘new language’. Olly Benkert says that we shouldn’t be ‘put off by the jargon’ but instead, we should embrace it as an opportunity to learn something new’. Olly suggests that you take the time to research key terms of the industry before starting and after joining, to always seek to learn more.

This is also a good opportunity to speak to new colleagues and ask for their support as you learn the new jargon of the industry. Palmer Foster in sports, athletes develop a determination to learn, a valuable trait that should be taken forward in any future career; ‘You have to take the time to understand what you’re doing… like studying film for an upcoming match or game you have to take the time to understand what you’re up against’. Jesse Menghini also highlighted this point by arguing that we should all ‘Be willing to learn’.


  1. Reposition: Enjoy What You’re Doing

Ultimately the transition to work will always be so much harder if you are moving to an industry you have no interest in. It is vital that you have a passion for your new industry or else you will struggle to motivate yourself to get up and go to work.

Lawrence Clark describes how he ‘had a passion for the competition and being in the competitive environment. Here I have a passion for the global markets and for making something successful out of it’.



All these tips are also highlighted in the In The Making of a Corporate Athlete (Harvard Business Review), in which authors Kim Loehr and Tony Schwartz examined the strategies and habits of winning athletes at all levels, which allow them to consistently perform in high-stress environments. The authors introduce the notion of ‘Full Engagement’ which involves managing high energy levels and stress to keep performance consistent. The article reveals that qualities such as a clear sense of purpose, the ability to set achievable goals a healthy work-life balance, rest, and recovery, are all important to ensure an athlete’s transition to the corporate world goes smoothly.

One final piece of advice to leave you with comes from Hamish Playfair who says ‘Ride the Roller Coaster’ when transitioning. It won’t always be easy and may require retraining of certain skills but ultimately Hamish suggests that it is possible to transition fairly quickly, easily, and enjoy it! It’s equally an exciting opportunity that exists for all athletes as they uncover, reposition, and step forward into their long-term career post-sport.