Canadian high performance athletes’ use of retirement resourcesMay 10, 2023
Earning a roster position as a nationally carded athlete is no easy task (“carding” refers to financial assistance from Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program). Athletes spend years working on their craft to represent Canada on the international stage. The length of time spent in the role as a national athlete varies across sports and between athletes, however, 1 commonality is every athlete’s inevitable retirement from sport. For some, the exit from sport is voluntary, while others may retire involuntarily due to roster deselection, injury, or life circumstances.
Athlete retirement has been associated with numerous psychological, social, physiological and emotional consequences. Recent research suggests that high performance athletes should proactively prepare for life after sport by engaging in sport-life balance. Athletes can work towards this by investing in areas of their life outside of sport such as education and family, as well as financial, social and professional development. Engaging in practices that promote sport-life balance does not imply an athlete should decrease their focus or commitment towards their pursuit of sport excellence. Rather, the concept of balance positions the athlete to have higher life satisfaction while perceiving positive sport experiences as they train for excellence (Alfermann et coll., 2004; Lavallee 2019).
For Canadian high performance athletes, Game Plan offers free support for carded athletes to foster an improved sport-life balance, optimize sport performance and plan for their post-sport career. Available to active and retired athletes, Game Plan’s resources include education, career, community, skill development and health support. Despite the curation of world-class retirement support, Game Plan’s resources are underutilized. The reason for this remains unclear.
After over a decade of servicing Canadian athletes, researchers examined Game Plan’s usage data from 2019-2021 to garner an understanding of how active and retired athletes in national sport organizations (NSOs) use Game Plan’s resources. The data outlined Game Plan’s usage rate from the following services domains: career, education, health, education, networking, skill development and other. All users were listed as unidentifiable randomized codes that solely indicated their NSO affiliation, and the year and frequency in which specific resources were accessed.
This blog provides insight into how Game Plan’s resources are being utilized by athletes across the sport system and identify barriers athletes face in accessing Game Plan’s support for their proactive and reactive retirement needs.
Internal barriers and resource usage
A recent article examined Canadian athletes’ ability to plan and prepare for their retirement (Brassard et coll., 2022). The authors identified 3 environmental styles fostered by coaches, support staff, and high-performance directors that influence an athletes’ ability to plan and prepare for retirement:
- An enabling environment empowers athletes to take action to plan and prepare for retirement
- For example, athletes feel encouraged and supported to pursuit external interests such as school, work, or family advancements
- A restricting environment has factors that may make it difficult to act
- For example, athletes have limited autonomy in their preparation and feel discouraged from pursuing external interests due to fear of being viewed as “less committed”
- A hindering environment may impede an athlete from acting
- For example, athletes are actively discouraged to pursue external interests such as school, work, and or family advancement and are unable to plan or prepare without anticipated consequences
Within these styles, athletes experience internal barriers such as a lack of support for activities outside of sport (such as academics, work, family) from coaches, and too few opportunities provided by NSOs to prepare for career transitions.
Beyond these internal barriers, Game Plan usage discrepancies between mainstream and Para athletes indicate there may be other contributing factors. Based on the usage data from 2019 to 2021, able-bodied athletes are accessing Game Plan resources more than Para athletes. Factors like retirement age (for example, mainstream athletes often retire earlier than Para athletes), athletic identity around retirement (for example, self-esteem scores have been reported as lower in Para athletes who retired involuntarily when compared to those who retired voluntarily), and narratives around the topic of retirement (Guerrero & Martin, 2018; Marin-Urquiza et coll., 2018) may be some of these contributing factors.
How funding influences access
NSOs are non-profit organizations that rely on various forms of funding to support sport advancement in Canada. Most NSOs rely on the Government of Canada, membership fees, and other organizations to provide financial support, such as the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. In addition, some organizations receive targeted high performance funding from the Government of Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and the Canadian Paralympic Committee based on recommendations from Own the Podium to advance the performance potential of athletes through funding staff, coaches, access to competitions, organizational facilities, and high performance organizations. Own the Podium assesses the performance potential of each sport organization, recommending the appropriate amount of funding.
Predictably, there are funding disparities across sport organizations due to different performance potential measurements. However, there appears to be a trickledown effect regarding how funding influences athletes’ access to Game Plan resources. For example, the Game Plan usage data showed high athlete usage from athletes in more highly funded sport organizations compared to athletes in lower funded organizations.
Regardless of sport organization funding, all carded athletes have access to free Game Plan support. However, this latter group of athletes appears to be missing out on opportunities to proactively and reactively receive support to prepare for and adapt to life after sport.
One leads to another
Among the thousands of athletes who utilized Game Plan’s support, the vast majority accessed Game Plan’s resources on multiple occasions, and at times, for various forms of support, including health, education, community, career or skill development. This widespread repeat usage emphasizes the importance of initiating that first meeting with a Game Plan advisor.
In order for an athlete to engage in proactive preparation for retirement, communication on the why, where, and how of a positive sport-life balance in transitioning from sport becomes pivotal.
As the first meeting with a Game Plan advisor is designed towards addressing those questions, NSOs can do a great deal for their athletes by facilitating that initial engagement. As such, organizations can do the following to support an athlete in getting to that initial meeting:
- Ensure members within your sport organization are aware of the informative resources available, how to access them, and when to refer
- This can be done by hosting an annual information session where staff as also provided with information documents they can refer to
- Lean on the experts
- Collaborate with Game Plan advisors to identify ideal times to facilitate formal and consistent information sessions for your athletes and staff
- Invest in sustainability:
- Identify strategies and practices that members within your organization can exercise to foster an enabling environment for athletes to plan and prepare for their retirement
- This can be done by encouraging, supporting, and celebrating athletes’ external interests and pursuits
It can be incredibly difficult to predict the length of time an athlete will spend training and competing in their sport, the injuries and triumphs they may endure, the levels of success they will achieve, or the exact moment and reason that will lead them to retire. Sport organizations in Canada have made vast improvements to provide athletes with holistic forms of support that address athletes’ technical and tactical performance, as well as their strength, conditioning, mental, nutritional and physical performance.
Progress is needed to minimize barriers athletes experience to accessing proactive and reactive retirement support. With the abundance of athlete retirement research studies that highlight the mental, emotional, social, professional and physical challenges athletes face due to their lack of retirement preparation, change in how sport organizations perceive, promote, and prioritize retirement is necessary.
Learn more about Game Plan https://mygameplan.ca/
About the Author(s)
Iman Hassan, Ph.D(c)., is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa, where she is researching athlete retirement, well-being, and mental performance. She completed the University of Ottawa’s Masters of Human Kinetics (MHK) Intervention and Consultation program and subsequently earned a professional membership with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. In her applied work as a mental performance consultant, Iman supports high performance athletes, coaches, and students across North America. As a consultant, Iman is focused on supporting and optimizing the well-being, performance, and retirement preparation of athletes.
Cassandra M. Seguin, Ph.D., received her doctorate from the University of Ottawa and MHK in intervention and consultation from the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on psychological and social aspects of sport-related concussions in high performance sport. Her areas of interest and practice include psychology of sport injury, military psychology, and mental performance. One of her goals through her research is to improve communication and knowledge transfer between research and practice. Cassandra’s passion for these and other related subjects derives from her time as a national level athlete with Hockey Canada and within the NCAA with Princeton University. She currently works as a mental performance specialist for the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services.
Diane M. Culver, Ph.D., is a Full Professor in the School of Human Kinetics, at uOttawa. Her research interests include coach development, women in coaching and collaborative inquiry. She has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the CPC and CAC to research parasport coaching, women in sport leadership, and sport safety. Diane is on the editorial boards of several journals including the International Sport Coaching Journal, Sport Coaching Review, and the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. In her teaching, research and consulting she is particularly interested in social learning theory and building social learning capability in sport. Diane is also an Alpine ski coach who has worked with all levels of skiers from youth to Olympic levels. She now coaches Masters skiers and mentors youth coaches.
About Game Plan: Game Plan is the wellness program designed to support the holistic needs of national athletes. Game plan provides supports for athletes to advance their health, education, network, skills, and careers both during and after their athletic careers. Game Plan collaborates with the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada, and Canadian Olympic Paralympic Sport Institutes network to ensure alignment of support and resources to athletes around the country.
Alfermann, D., Stambulova, N., & Zemaityte, A. (2004). Reactions to sport career termination: A cross-national comparison of German, Lithuanian, and Russian athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5(1), 61–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1469-0292(02)00050-X
Game Plan. (2022). Our mission & history. https://mygameplan.ca/
Guerrero, M., & Martin, J. (2018). Para sport athletic identity from competition to retirement: A brief review and future research directions. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, 29(2), 387-396.
Lavallee, D. (2019). Engagement in sport career transition planning enhances performance. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 24(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/15325024.2018.1516916
Marin-Urquiza, A., Ferreira, J. P., & Van Biesen, D. (2018). Athletic identity and self-esteem among active and retired Paralympic athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 18(6), 861-871.
The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.