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Transitioning from Defence to Offence After Retiring from Professional Sports

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

Business Owners and Executives are very similar to Professional Athletes, in that they have been singularly focused on one thing for a very long time, usually at the expense of other self development activities. Eventually, they both face the very same dilemma - when do you ‘give it up?’ And when they do decide to retire (or have it forced upon them), they face another intimidating issue- ‘what the heck do I do now’?

At 21st Avenue Partners, we have worked with both business owners and executives, and professional athletes (professionals) through our Athlete Development affiliate, Game Change.

From our experience, we have identified common issues professionals incur when facing transition (including retirement):

• Lack of direction and purpose; • A loss of professional and personal identity; • Connection to a very narrow marketplace/group of people; • Inability to create or uncover new income-generating opportunities; • Constant battle to create a sustainable level of happiness and meaning.

Professionals introduce quite a bit of career risk to their lives when they retire as the issues outlined above go from one extreme to another. From our experience, most people underestimate the profound effect it has on them and these missing pieces cannot always be simply replaced with money in the bank.

We have found that the biggest reason for these issues is that these professionals did not have a strategy to make this transition. Their critical mistake is that they failed to leverage their status while they were ‘in the game’ and use their business or sport as a launching pad into the next phase of their life - what we call the ‘Career Overlap Strategy’.

Transition or ‘retirement’ is a sensitive issue as it is typically avoided when speaking with professionals. Here is a quote from a former pro athlete:

“There were many responses from people about my decision to retire. I knew that all of the responses were meant to be positive, but to the athlete in me, all I heard was: “it was good while it lasted, but the best is behind you, it’s all downhill from here.”

From this brief insight one can see that “transitioning” athletes are dealing with far more than a change in occupation or career trajectory, but also a major change in identity. Furthermore, if that change is perceived as negative and defensive, as with this particular athlete, the transition process can be riddled with difficulty.

We are in the business of creating ‘proactive transitions’, or simply put “playing offense” - anticipating transition, not reacting to it. By being proactive, we put the individual in a position of control. When the individual is in control, he or she makes better decisions and plays to their strengths.

In order to generate a proactive mindset, 21st Avenue/Game Change focuses on reaching these individuals at the peak of their success in order to develop both a broad skill set and experiences that will help with transition decisions. Encouraging this development during the height of their career allows for a stable and safe platform to seek out the skill acquisition activities and networking exercises that are often missed in career development due to the rapid identification with their role as an athlete, executive, or business owner.

We do this by using our unique FOCUS methodology; the individual can be evaluated, assessed, and developed in a way that meets their needs to integrate into the world beyond their sport or business. Specifically, identifying and developing autonomous self-starting behaviour and the ability to form a long-term strategic vision that relies on internal validation is a crucial outcome of this process.

The FOCUS methodology consists of the following:

Foresight- Self-awareness and the ability to look ahead Offering- Your value proposition or personal brand Connecting- Engaging with a marketplace and its key players Uncovering- Ability to uncover opportunity Sustaining- A consistent level of performance and overall happiness

Providing professionals with the platform and opportunity to explore and grow beyond their sport or business during their careers is a proactive way to facilitate a more positive outlook on transition and increase both their hope and potential in their lives after sport, retirement, or selling a business.

Jay Harrison, Director of Assessment, Game Change Athlete Development (and former professional hockey player)


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