3 Tips to Help Athletes Transition to Life After Sports

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College athletics is one of the last stepping stones before entering the world of professional sports. Collegiate athletes spend a majority of their college career training and competing in addition to the countless hours given prior to their recruitment. According to research by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2015, Division I college athletes dedicated thirty-four hours a week to their sport. Assuming seven hours of sleep per night, that’s roughly 28 percent of their weekly activity comprised of practice and competition.

Even the rest of their time outside of practice is regimented, controlled, and planned so they can stay healthy, uninjured, study, and be successful. Although this method helps the college athletes proceed to professional sports, most will not be recruited and need to be prepared for life outside of organized athletics.

Business man in a suit running on a track


The NCAA gathered more research in 2016 and found that 1 to 1.5 percent of collegiate athletes proceeded to play professionally while the majority transitioned into a life that did not revolve around their athletic talents. Transitions can be difficult regardless of when or where they occur, but they can prove especially challenging to those that are accustomed to a competitive lifestyle. These transitions can cause stress, health problems, and leave the collegiate athlete mentally and physically unprepared for life outside of sports.

Fortunately, the skills that student-athletes strengthen on the field won’t go to waste once they graduate. The dedication, integrity, and perseverance learned from years of competition will benefit them in the professional world. Here are a few tips that can help athletes ease into a transition and find satisfaction outside of their sport. These tips are not only meant for the athlete, but for friends, family, and coaching staff that should be aware of the transition challenges and how to help.

Plan in Advance

This is advice that is most beneficial when applied earlier, rather than later. Formulating a contingency plan is more than helpful, it is necessary. Due to the clearly unbalanced statistics reflecting college athletes who will not move on to play professionally, preparing for a future outside of athletics will ease the transition and offer viable career options.

The plan consists of multiple parts, one of which is being a good student. Athletics may be responsible for the scholarships and opportunities a student-athlete has, but academics are truly the heart of a college or university. Finding an educational passion is important for establishing future career options, by studying diligently and actively participating in classes, a student-athlete can warrant success in their educational career, as well as their professional career after graduation. Student-athletes can use both academic and athletic departments to their advantage when looking for references as they enter the professional world. Another piece of the plan for student-athletes is to participate in activities outside of their sport.

Trying new things can open up new ideas, passions, and growth. In short, learning to be flexible and open to new activities outside of athletics can help athletes be more accepting of life after sports.

Healthy Eating

Athletes post-college may find it challenging to maintain a healthy diet. Their time in school and competing usually incorporates rigorous physical activity and a semi-controlled diet, meaning they might not be able to implement their own diet. One of the harder aspects is transitioning from a very active lifestyle to one that is less active, making diet even more important.

As activity level decreases and athletes age, they need to properly adjust how they eat or suffer from possible health consequences. People are affected by the food they eat, and some foods beget poor health and a more sedentary lifestyle. In transitions, these foods should be avoided in order to stay upbeat and active.

Athletes don’t need to make radical changes, but simply be more aware of portion sizes, fiber, and the kind of foods they eat. Vegetables and greens are always part of a balanced diet, and hydration is crucial to maintaining health. Staying hydrated is important in athletics, and being mindful of hydration when they are not being reminded to drink water will help as they learn to sustain themselves.

Stress Management

Transitional periods often cause stress, which is almost always detrimental to mental and physical health. Stress can be a positive tool that helps performance under pressure, but long periods of stress that aren’t focused on an activity or goal can result in visible health issues.

Stress can be associated with higher blood pressure, a weaker immune system, higher chances of stroke or heart attack, infertility, premature aging, sleeping issues, anxiety, and obesity. Each of these possibilities should be taken seriously and can be stopped through stress management. Some proven techniques are staying positive, breathing, exercise, and seeking professional help.

Positivity can be attained even when it seems out of reach. Former college athletes can focus on staying positive through words of affirmation and being mindful of their emotional state. Slow, deep breathing can lower the heart rate, slow down thoughts, and help put everything in perspective when tasks seem daunting. Exercise and seeking help from a therapist will keep both the body and mind healthy. Basically, discovering and maintaining a balance can help manage stress.

Athletes who no longer participate in sports do not have to say goodbye to a happy and satisfying life. The skills and abilities gained over years of athletic practice usually can transition with them into a new field. Competition, hard work, integrity, and perseverance can be beneficial in any field; it’s up to the athlete to keep an open mind and be an active part in a successful transition.

Learn More

The Ohio University online Master’s in Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is a pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.

Recommended Readings

Ohio University Blog, “The Benefits of Interscholastic Athletic Programs”
Ohio University Blog, “How Does Diversity Affect The Performance of Sports Teams?”
Ohio University Blog, “Benefits of Expanding College Athletic Facilities”


NCAA.org, “When the Playing Days End”
NCAA.org, “Mind, Body, and Sport: Student-athletes in transition”
Mic.com, “Here’s What Happens to the 98% of College Athletes Who Don’t Go Pro”
Next College Student Athlete, “How Are You Preparing For Life After College Athletics?”
GoodTherapy.org, “Self-Actualization”
NCAA.org, “Results from the 2015 GOALS Study of the Student-Athlete Experience”