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Benefits of Non-Traditional Retirement for Athletes

Since the dawn of Social Security legislation, retirement has had one story: work full-time until you reach retirement age then live out the rest of your years relaxing and pursuing your own passions. This is a good story, one that has inspired many and given them the means to make it come true.

But can one story outline the path for everyone?

There is a danger in the single story, and it is time to bring light to different stories for retirement—each presenting something unique and prosperous. The singular story we have for retirement doesn’t work for everyone for many reasons.  Chief among them is the diverse range of professions people have. Let’s take, for instance, professional athletes. Their career trajectory will look quite different from someone in, say, accounting.

Athletes have a unique opportunity to embark upon a new working adventure after they retire from their sport. I’d like to show you how you can write, share, and live your own story with a non-traditional approach to retirement.

Gold Rush

If you are a professional athlete, your average career span is about 10 years. That number varies depending on the sport. For example, the average time for a player in the NFL is 3.5 years whereas the average for the NBA is about 5. That isn’t a long time! According to these numbers, many athletes will be looking for additional work or retiring by about 30.  You have another 40-50 years of life before heading off to other shores.

During the time you are playing, you will be making a healthy and generous salary. It is important that you seek financial counsel for developing a budget and savings strategy to set you up for those next 40-50 years. Since most athletes do not spend their entire adult life in their sport, it is crucial that they nail down a practical financial strategy and avoid lifestyle inflation in order to keep them in a good, sustainable place after they retire. Keeping things steady and smooth should be the goal.  Life is a long time, and living like a king in the early part of your life and then a pauper the later part seldom brings happiness or fulfillment.

Retirement looks so different from a professional athlete’s perspective. Some may retire from their sport while still in their prime and that leaves them with many opportunities to pursue different career avenues. What could those avenues look like and where will they lead?

Path Less Traveled

A non-traditional retirement plan can look different for each person. It can be comprised of many activities but the most important thing is that it stays true to your values, intentions, and goals. When thinking about non-traditional retirement, it is good to start with your long-term goals. Think through the questions below to get you in the right mindset.

  • What are your long-term financial goals?

  • What values drive your financial habits?

  • Are there activities or practices that could help you achieve those goals while staying true to your values?

These are big questions, but beginning to outline the answers will put you on your own path, one that may lead you to success.

Your career as an athlete has been incredibly exciting, full of rigor, discipline, strength, and triumphs. But that same pattern does not have to end when you retire from your sport.,  You can find new ways to channel your strengths and unique energy into other tasks. I’d like to outline other opportunities for you to consider after you retire.

  • Encore career

    • Your time in the workforce doesn’t have to end, it can morph into something new. Many athletes take up alternate careers after they leave their sport. Now is the time for you to extend your passion into other areas. That could be coaching, teaching, journalism, communication, finance, marketing.  If you want to do some research of what various occupations and professions require on a day-to-day basis, go to the Occupational Outlook Handbook website maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/).  It is the most authoritative site for solid information on about 500 different occupations that 80% of Americans work in.

  • Education

    • Perhaps your time in the NFL inspired you to help other athletes take better care of their bodies and that leads you into an interest in physical therapy, nutrition studies, or even psychology. These fields would require additional schooling and this could be something that fits into your plan.

  • Volunteer work

    • Giving back is one of the best ways to embody the values you wish to instill in others. Many athletes take up volunteer work after they retire, and this work can be directly connected to the sports industry.. Volunteer work is not only a way for you to find fulfillment, but it also helps others in a lasting and timeless way.  The fact that you were good enough to become a professional will give you credibility with others, especially young people.  You could change some lives forever!

It may be tempting to simply retire early after you are done playing, but that is not the story you have to write. Extending your career into a new path through different work, more education, or volunteer efforts is a wonderful way for you to continue to chart new territories as you have always done. It takes a lot to be a professional athlete.  You have skills that many others can only dream of. After being done, you can continue to use and grow those skills to contribute in new and wonderful ways.  This old world can use as many good examples of how to live successfully over the long term as it can get.

The single story of retirement is swiftly coming to an end. It is time for you to write your own story, and I can’t wait to see the things you will do.