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Life after sport: what do athletes do after retirement?


Written by
Natalia Aliucova

While many people have only just set foot on their desired career path in their late 20s and early 30s, for professional athletes it is already time to think about their ‘career after retirement’. There is a variety of paths available for former sportspeople, and here we explore some of them.  

Male swimmer in the pool preparing to dive

Being a professional athlete is a challenging as well as prestigious job. With the increased risk of injury, rigorous training and fierce competition, it is the kind of path few people choose to pursue. And for those who commit and forge a successful career, it might feel like it’s over way too quickly.  

People outside of sports spend their twenties either in academia or trying to find their footing on the career ladder, with many job-hopping until the very end of the decade. For the average professional athlete, however, it is time to start thinking about their ‘retirement plan’ and figure out what they want to do next.  

Fortunately, athletes have many transferable skills that would give them an upper hand in a number of professions and industries. After years of training, they are no stranger to the value of discipline and consistency; they strive for perfection and achievement and are highly motivated individuals. Athletes who got to compete internationally have had the opportunity to network with people across the globe and are well-travelled and adaptable.  

All these traits make for a good jumpstart in a career in sales — which is actually the route many athletes take after retirement. According to data gathered by LinkedIn, 27% of professional sportspeople switched to a sales job after retirement between 2018 and 2022.  

Others who have managed to save up during their sporting career open their own businesses, putting their impressive skillset to use as entrepreneurs or investors. However, it’s no surprise that a lot of retired athletes opt for careers where they can apply their hard-won practical knowledge of the field.  

Many choose to pass their knowledge on to the new generation of sports legends as a coach, or help people improve their fitness as personal trainers. With some training, one could become a physical therapist or a dietician or nutritionist — jobs that an athlete would find easy to tackle due to years of learning about their own body and how to make it stronger. Alternatively, that same practical knowledge of the job could find an application in broadcasting, sports analysis or social media management.  

Having cut their education short in order to pursue a rapid upward move in their sports career, many athletes choose to go back into higher education and develop new skills. This opens up a variety of opportunities for those who want to venture into an entirely new field or stay in the sports industry and understand how the system works.  

One of the University of London’s students is Conrad Francis, a two-time Olympic swimmer who pursues the PGCert International Sports Management programme while working a coach in Seoul, South Korea. He has already studied Sports Management at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, but felt that the fully online University of London programme would offer “something different and more challenging”. 

Jointly developed by leading world sports education partner, World Academy of Sport, the programme fits those that want to know how the sports industry operates, with a specific interest in international sports. “The programme will help athletes to understand how sports management is structured, how the organisations think, and even how the Olympic Games are run,” explains Conrad.  

International sport was one of the industries most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, as there were no procedures in place, and keeping the industry afloat required critical thinking and adaptation from the policy makers and all branches of sports management. According to Conrad, doing an assignment that was related to the pandemic encouraged him to think outside the box. “Thinking about what the next step would be, what to do if things go wrong – that's the essence of this programme,” he explains. 

The skills developed by the programme can help open doors to a range of exciting opportunities in sports management, be it marketing and media, sports event management, performance data analysis or policy management.  

Take the next step in your career today — find out more about the PGCert International Sports Management