Olympic athletes back to retirement: A qualitative longitudinal study

Miquel Torregrosa, Yago Ramis, Susana Pallarés, Fernando Azócar, Clara Selva

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© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Objective: In this qualitative longitudinal study we assess the retirement process of Olympic athletes. We aim to evaluate the influence that following a dual career or being exclusively focused on sport can have in this process. We compare athletes' prospective views before retirement (Torregrosa, Boixadós, Valiente, & Cruz, 2004) with their retrospective accounts ten years later. This allows us to assess athletes' accuracy in predicting the process and its outcomes in relation to the trajectory followed. Design: We designed a qualitative longitudinal study (Epstein, 2002) conducting semi-structured interviews. Method: Fifteen Olympic athletes were interviewed twice. Thematic analysis was performed on the qualitative data comparing prospective views and retrospective accounts of: (a) retirement planning, (b) voluntary termination, (c), multiple personal identities, (d) availability of social support, and (e) active coping strategies. Results: Ten athletes reported positive transitions related to their favorable approach to the five categories above. Most athletes reporting positive transitions followed dual careers (i.e., parallel or convergent trajectories). Five out of fifteen athletes reported unexpected difficulties in the transition. Four of these followed a linear trajectory during their sporting career. A clear view of retirement in the prospective interviews also facilitated retirement for an athlete following a linear trajectory. While a diffuse view of retirement in the prospective interview signaled future difficulties. Conclusion: Results from this qualitative longitudinal study suggest that promoting dual careers in elite sport and working on the prospective view of retirement can facilitate retirement from elite sport and the transition to an alternative professional career.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-56
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Dual career
  • Elite athletes
  • Qualitative longitudinal study
  • Retirement from sport
  • Transitions

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