Hitting ‘rock bottom’: When professional athletes struggle with life after sport.

post sporting careers

By national sports correspondent Mary Gearin

Moving from life in the sporting spotlight to relative anonymity is not always easy.

While some athletes stay in the game through media or coaching or move into stable jobs away from sport, some struggle.

Here are some of those stories.

Liz Brett – Australian Olympic volleyballer, board member of Crossing The Line Sport

“I hit rock bottom in 2006. I was no longer going to be part of a high-performance team, I was never going to feel the elation that I’d felt during the Olympics and it was a really tough time. There was destructive behaviour.

“If I’d had gotten help from a respected professional, they would have said I was depressed. Certainly there was self-destructive behaviour … going out partying till all hours of the morning. I was searching for something and I didn’t know what I was looking for and I didn’t know how to get it.

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“We were fearful [if we went to counsellors supplied by the sport] that as soon as our coach found out, the first question the coach would ask is ‘What’s wrong? Yeah, I’ve noticed your training’s been a bit off lately’. Potentially it impacted your selection for next tour overseas or the next world championships or even the Olympic games.

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“What’s missing was that real true independent safe space where athletes could go and seek help as and when they wanted it, independent from their coach, from the Institute of Sport, from the funding body that was behind your sport.

“Crossing The Line Sport is an organisation that is completely independent of any sporting institute or state or national sporting organisation.

“The platform they’ve built is online, and the great thing about that space is athletes and coaches and families can go to that space and ask for help from a completely independent organisation and they can access that anywhere in the world.”

Gearoid Towey – Irish Olympic rower, founder of Crossing The Line Sport

“On paper, I had a dream transition. I wanted to retire. I was lucky to retire at the Olympics. I had a degree, I had loads of outside interest and I couldn’t wait to finish. And even with that kind of dream retirement scenario it was still tough because it’s [about] purpose and passion and rediscovering that.

“Athletes are given a place in the world where they’re doing well where they’re validated, they’re getting a dose of feel-good chemicals every single day. When you retire, that purpose and passion is gone and is very hard to get back.

“There’s been millions and millions of dollars pumped into the latest gadgets, the latest equipment, whereas hardly any emphasis has been put on a bit of counselling for athletes. [It] would make a huge difference to their performance, because if you think about it, a more rounded, balanced human being who can talk to someone about their problems is going to make a stronger athlete.

“Crossing the Line Sport is independent. Our whole purpose is that we are former athletes who are here for athletes to talk to about stuff. When I was going through my transition I found the best council I got was from athletes I knew.”

Libby Trickett – Olympic swimming medallist, Beyond Blue ambassador

“I definitely struggled. Without a doubt. That’s why I came back. So the first time I retired I really struggled. I had a massive identity crisis, I didn’t know who I was outside of the pool, I didn’t know who I wanted to be.

“It is incredibly challenging and the reality of moving from elite sport — we have routine and structure and regular exercise and a passion and a drive, clear goals.

“[When you move into the real world] that’s all taken away and you’re trying to work out who you are outside of the pool with people still constantly recognising you as Libby the swimmer or Grant the swimmer.

“The big thing is time, giving you time and space being really patient with yourself, allowing yourself to make mistakes.

“I do think we could do better. It’s been proven time and time again, that we do need more support.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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