Serena Williams’ Retirement & “Evolving Away” – Is there Life after Professional Sport?

Thu 1st Sep 2022

Global superstar Serena Williams has just called time on her starlit career. Dominating the global stage of tennis across 27 years, Williams revolutionized the game with her powerful style of play, and she now leaves the sport having won more Grand Slam single titles than any other woman or man during the Open era.

Her impressive trophy cabinet pays tribute to the success Williams enjoyed, amassing 6 US Open titles, 7 Wimbledon titles, 7 Australian Open titles, and 3 French Open titles; alongside 4 Olympic gold medals. Undoubtedly Williams, who only turned professional in 1995 aged 14 years old, is one of the most trailblazing sportspeople of the 21st Century. Her legacy in tennis will endure as a player who masterfully harnessed superb athleticism to outclass her opponents with powerful serves and ground strokes. Beyond tennis, Williams’ legendary status spread into popular culture through appearances in The Simpsons (1989) and My Wife and Kids (2001) and was cemented by the recent Oscar-winning King Richard (2021) – a biopic depicting the Williams Sisters’ upbringing and journey to stardom.


Williams Announces her Retirement

At 42, Williams has just announced her intention to begin the transition away from professional tennis, writing in Vogue about her future in business and as a mother. In this self-penned article, Williams labelled her transition with a somewhat unfamiliar phrase:

 “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition … Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.

There has been much commentary on this statement by Williams, and at add-victor, we think it perfectly encapsulates the positive mindset any athlete should employ in facing their transition away from elite and professional sport – crucial in overcoming an endemic defeatist mindset which clouds many athletes’ minds when facing this transition.


Life After Sport

Whenever anyone mentions retirement from their workplace (whether that is elite sport, or an office job) it traditionally comes with negative connotations, ones of giving up and a future without work, which often translates to a future without meaning. Indeed, especially in the context of leaving professional sport, these connotations are magnified – it can be seen as nothing less than giving up on your childhood dream and arouses a fear of what comes next. As Williams herself admitted:

 “I’ve been reluctant to admit that I have to move on from playing tennis. It’s like a taboo topic. It comes up, and I start to cry. I think the only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist … I hate that I have to be at this crossroads.


Evolving Away” – The Serena-Mindset for an add-victor Solution

However, this transition should be treated with a different mindset, the Serena-Mindset. The movement of athletes from elite and professional sport into the corporate world and beyond should not be envisioned as such a dramatic culture shock. Yes, there will be details: writing certain types of emails, conducting yourself in an office environment. Overall, however, experience in elite sports empowers its players with transferable skills to not only ease their transition into the corporate work, but also make them an invaluable asset to any company. Leaving elite sport is therefore not a “retirement”, but a transition – an opportunity to focus on a new area of your personal growth. An evolution into a new stage of your life. This positive mindset is encapsulated in the reply to Williams’ article from Canadian Football Star Christine Sinclair:

Too many people use the word retirement, and it just seems like such an end and so drastic. And so final. All athletes go through it and you're just, like she said, evolving into a new part of your life.

At add-victor, we not only see Williams’ mindset as the ideal one to adopt for any elite athlete facing the transition from sport to the corporate world, but also as a lesson from which corporate leaders can learn. These elite-athletes carry with them the unique transferable skills picked up across lives devoted to sport, including resilience and adaptability. As Senior Lecturer at Yale Heidi Brooks acknowledges:

There is a chance for corporate leaders to learn from Williams’ transition to [her next] phase—those skills of learning every day in a new arena while juggling parenting and other demands.

So, whether you are an elite athlete contemplating the move away from elite sport, or whether you are a company looking to employ capable individuals with a range of transferable skills they will bring to executing their work and building a positive corporate environment; add-victor is the place to go.

Gus Coningham