PhD Anke Reints

Validation of the Athletic Career model and the identification of variables related to athletic retirement

Doctoral dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of doctor in psychological sciences

Promotor: Prof. dr. Paul Wylleman


One of the major life events encountered by athletes in the course of their athletic career is athletic retirement. Duringthe transition out of elite sport, athletes need to cope with a complex interaction of transition demands (e.g., identity, social network, professional vocation). To understand the process of athletic retirement, it is imperative to recognizea nd understand that athletes are confronted with transitions and demands related to the athletic as well as non-athletic context. This need for a ‘whole person’ lifespan approach is reflected in the athletic career developmental model of Wylleman and Lavallee (2004), which takes into account the reciprocal and interactive nature of transitions within the athletic, psychological, psychosocial and academic/ vocational level of development.

This PhD study contributed to the further validation of the developmental model by investigating the role of gender in the way athletes shape and experience their (post-) athletic career as well as the required resources and availability of career support services aimed at facilitating the transition out of elite sport and into a post-athletic career.

Data collected among Flemish former elite athletes in first instance confirmed that athletic careers must be viewed using a holistic and lifespan perspective based on four developmental levels (i.e., athletic, psychological, psychosocial, academic/vocational level). Data analysis also revealed that these former elite athletes considered not only several additional within-career transitions during the mastery and discontinuation stages but also two developmental levels, namely at financial and physical level. In second instance, results revealed that athletic retirement is multifaceted, complex and individual. That is, athletes’ decision to retire from elite sport depends on an interaction of negative and positive factors (respectively Push and Anti- Push) during the athletic career, and negative and positive factors (respectively Anti-Pull and Pull) after retirement. Moreover, the quality of the process of athletic retirement depends, amongst others, on athletes’ perceived control over the decision to retire, on having prepared for life after sports, on athletes’ career duration, and on their age at retirement. In third instance, this PhD study identified several gender-specific characteristics in athletes’ career development. For example, results demonstrated that female athletes retired from elite sport on average six years earlier than male athletes and more often retired because of a di!cult combination between their athletic career and professional occupation. Finally, this PhD study revealed that athlete career support systems are being developed or are already fully available in countries worldwide. Data collected amongst athlete service providers and career development projects worldwide, reveals a trend towards using a ‘holistic’ as well as a pro-active approach in view of increasing athletes’ coping resources (e.g., life skills) and thus their readiness for transition demands during (in function of a dual career) as well as after their athletic career.