For many professional players, football is not just a career, but a way of life. You might well have been playing since you were aged five or even younger, and dedicated your life to playing the game that you love ever since.
As a result, football can become integral to who you are as a person. This is fine when you’re making your way up and then playing week in and week out in the middle of your career.
But when you reach the end of your playing days, it can be a sudden shock to the system to lose this element of your personality. Indeed, many players say that they suffer a loss of identity at this stage.
As reported in the Shropshire Star in March, former Stoke academy player Rich Wilkinson opened up about his struggles with being deselected from the Potters’ academy aged 17.
Wilkinson described it as “an extreme emotion of sadness and loss”, with him ultimately feeling “a loss of reality and loss of identity”.
Of course, your circumstances are slightly different to Wilkinson’s. Not only will you have had the time in youth football that Wilkinson had, but you’ll also have had another 10 years or more playing professionally.
Even so, you may well face similar feelings when you reach the end of your career. It can be quite disarming to go from the intensity of the weekly training and matchday schedule, to suddenly find yourself no longer playing competitive football.
So, read on to find out how you can manage this loss of identity at the end of your career.
Knowing what comes next can help you transition from your playing days
When you decide to stop playing professional football, you’ll likely transition into a second career. This might be within football, perhaps in a coaching or management position, or even in sports media.
Alternatively, you might have other pursuits on your mind, such as starting a business or training in an entirely new career.
Regardless of the role you move into next, it can be sensible to prepare for this ahead of time. There are two major benefits of this approach.
Firstly, it gives you time to learn the new skills you’ll need in your next role. Many professionals start earning their coaching badges before they stop playing, such as former England defender John Terry, who started studying nearly five years before the end of his career.
Similarly, ex-Arsenal defender Alex Scott completed a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting while still playing professional football. This allowed her to quickly transition into punditry and presenting without having a break between her two careers.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it helps you to know what’s next. While this might not entirely remove the loss of identity that you’ll have from not being in the dressing room every week, it gives you a new structure and something to look forward to.
Footballers are often competitive individuals who always strive to be the best. Your new career gives you the opportunity to do this, so make the most of it. Not only could this help you succeed in your new role, but it could give you some much-needed purpose as you transition to this new stage.
Take the opportunity to learn more about yourself away from football
When you consider the schedule that professional footballers have to stick to, it’s no wonder that you might experience a loss of identity when you finally hang your boots up. Football is time-consuming and can be all-encompassing, so it’s understandable that your career might be tangled up with your personality.
As your professional playing career ends, though, it gives you an opportunity to reassess who you are as a person outside of football.
Without the pressure of professional football, you have a chance to figure out who you are and what makes you tick in your personal life. It might be a chance to do some of the things you missed out on because of your job, too.
You could explore other pastimes outside of football that you didn’t have time for during your career, such as playing other sports that you might have avoided for fear of injury.
Or, you might relish the free time you now have to spend with friends and family. Football is such an intense career that you might feel you’ve missed out on certain experiences with your loved ones. So, you could look to make up for this lost time without the pressure of your training schedule hanging over you.
Rather than only seeing this as the end of your career, it could also be the start of something new.
Seek support if you need it
Perhaps most important of all is to seek support at this stage of your life if you’re finding it difficult.
Many players have said that quitting football took a toll on them and their mental health. Indeed, former Stevenage and Newport defender Fraser Franks openly talked about his issues with alcohol and his road to recovery after a heart condition forced him to retire aged just 28, Sky Sports reported last year.
So, if you start to feel that the loss of identity from football is beginning to weigh on your mind, make sure you speak to someone.
Whether it’s your teammates, a health professional, or your friends and family, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re finding the transition a bit more difficult than you might have expected.
The important thing is to remember that there’s more to life than football. Speaking to someone can help you to deal with life off the pitch, so you can fully enjoy this new chapter.
Working with a financial planner can help you manage your wealth
The other area where you may benefit from support is with your money. Going from earning your wages every week as a player to relying on other sources of income can be difficult. You may be concerned that you won’t have enough to continue living the lifestyle you’ve been accustomed to throughout your career.
This is an area where financial planning can be hugely reassuring. At ProSport, we’ve helped many professional footballers to manage and organise their wealth so that it works for them and their families.
If you’d like help organising your wealth, both for now and life after football, then please speak to us.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01204 602909 to get in touch today.
This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.