Now what? The end of an athlete’s career
At the end of this competitive season, many skaters will be faced with the decision of whether or not to stick around at another shot at Olympic glory.
In the wake of the Nicole Bobek news, there has been a lot of chatter surrounding the choices an athlete makes after they leave the sport. There isn’t someone waiting at the edge of the ice telling a skater where to go or what to do once their career is over. It’s generally up to the skater, who, after spending the majority of their young life in an ice rink, has to quickly figure out what direction they should go once their skates are hung up. Unfortunately, many struggle with this transition back to “normal“ life.
In addition, there also isn’t someone telling skaters like Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen whether going back to training full-time and attempting to compete in another Olympic Games is the best thing for them. These athletes have to dig deep and decide whether or not they have it in them to bring themselves back to the competitive arena.
Last week, the DesMoines Register ran an article about 2008 Olympic gold medalist and gymnast Shawn Johnson. Johnson, who recently won “Dancing with the Stars”–catapulting her into mainstream celebrity status–is having to face the difficult decision of whether or not to stay in gymnastics in an attempt to win another Olympic gold medal. Due to her success on DWTS, Hollywood has come calling, but there still appears to be a part of Johnson that is hungry to spend the next four years training in the gym.
This crossroads that Johnson finds herself at contains a world of choices. Should she choose the allure of the entertainment industry? Should she decide to go to college and focus on her education? Or, does she decide to whip her petite body back into competitive shape and embark on a quest to win another Olympic gold? These options for a young teenager are dizzying.
This vast array of choices is rare for the majority of people Johnson’s age, but these decisions are common for those in the world of athletics. Athletes in every sport face a similar juncture when the future of their competitive careers is up in the air. Whether it’s due to an injury, not making a team, or a feeling that perhaps they have accomplished all that they set out to do, it’s incredibly difficult to know whether staying around or leaving to embark on a new life is the right decision for them.
If Johnson decides to stay in for another four years, she, like Michelle Kwan, has to fully assess whether or not she has it in her to put her body through the stress of attempting to make another Olympic team. And, if she does manage to stay uninjured in the very dangerous sport of gymnastics and successfully makes the team, will coming home from the London Games in 2012 without another gold medal be viewed as a defeat?
There have been many athletes who have decided to stick around in their sport for one more shot at glory and who have come home unsuccessful. Brett Favre, who twice displayed a teary and very public goodbye to football, has once again announced he will play for another season, this time with the Vikings. Favre didn’t have a very strong 2009, culminating in an injured shoulder, which required surgical repair. Perhaps his body is giving him the not-so-subtle hint that it’s time to pack it in.
Although making a successful comeback is incredibly difficult, it is not unheard of. Pete Sampras did it in 2002, and Sasha Cohen is attempting to do it this year. For Johnson, she is going to have to weigh the pros and cons of this decision and keep in mind the statistics for a triumphant return are not in her favor.
That being said, my bet is that Johnson will choose to end her athletic career and will instead forge a life for herself away from gymnastics. If I am correct in my prediction, based on the success of athletes from a variety of sports, I have ranked what she should do once she retires–from worst to best choice.
5. The Entertainment Industry
This seems to be where Johnson is likely to head if she decides to leave the gym. Big mistake. Skaters, gymnasts, and athletes from a various sports think that because they were talented on the ice, mat, court, or field, this talent will translate success on the big screen. It hardly ever works. Tara Lipinski retired at age 15 from amateur skating. It’s been eleven years since she moved to Hollywood to become a full-time actress, and we have yet to see her act in a movie or star in a television series.
4. Play the Investment Game
Many of you have already heard about the financial fall from grace Lenny Dykstra is dealing with. Since retiring from professional baseball, Dykstra has managed numerous businesses including a car wash franchise in Corona, California.
Dykstra’s time away from the field has been problematic, to say the least. There have been a rash of legal troubles; law suits; a car accident as a result of drunk driving; and, more recently, he filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, claiming to owe almost 50 million dollars in liabilities.
Now I don’t see Johnson mismanaging her life and money the way Dykstra has, but investing poorly or with too much riding on one venture is never a good thing. Rarely do people without an education in business, or without a smart financial team behind them, do well in this career choice. Having a lot of money doesn’t mean a person has the tools to invest that money wisely.
Many athletes have gone on to coach, and this is usually a fairly common career choice for skaters toying with retirement. In previous interviews, Johnson has expressed a desire try out coaching, so perhaps this is where her future plans will lead her.
Johnson has to be aware, though, that being a good athlete doesn’t immediately equate with being a good coach. Many of the best coaches in the sports world were never Olympic competitors nor stars themselves. Johnson will have to realistically assess whether or not she has the skills needed to become a successful coach. Unfortunately many of these skills can not be taught.
This is another common career change for skaters, basketball players, and gymnasts, and I can definitely see this as a great way for Johnson to make a living. In skating, Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Flemming, Kurt Browning, and Peter Carruthers are only a handful of the skaters who have made this choice after retiring from competitive skating. Shannon Miller, 1992 Olympic all-around silver medalist, has transitioned nicely into the role of a gymnastics commentator, and I can see Johnson emulating her move.
In order to be a solid commentator, Johnson is going to have to be okay with critiquing her friends and former competitors. She’s going to have to learn to speak eloquently on camera, and she’ll have to put in some training time to master this new career. That being said, Johnson’s personality is one that would fit this field perfectly.
1. Go to college
Johnson, who is finishing up her senior year of high school online, has said she is currently weighing the option of whether or not to attend college. My advice? This is definitely the smartest move for her. If she were to go to school, she would still have the time to devote to some of the smaller acting gigs that she has been offered in Hollywood. By attaining her college degree, Johnson will open herself up to an array of opportunities away from gymnastics.
Michelle Kwan, who recently graduated from the University of Denver, is a great example of someone who Johnson could look up to. While in school, Kwan still had the time to work for the State Department, attend Hollywood events, and make public appearances. Now that she has graduated, she has decided to return to the ice and has given herself an education, which is so important to an athlete or non-athlete.
Although in the DesMoines Register article Johnson said that she wishes someone would decide what to with her future for her, in the end the decision is up to Shawn. She, alone, has to make the choice of whether or not she is going to go to college, stay in and compete, coach, or fall in with the wrong crowd like Nicole Bobek. After living a life where day after day the structure and rules of what an athlete has to do are laid out for them by their coaches and parents, it can be incredibly difficult for them to come up with new rules and make decisions by him or herself. Johnson seems like a smart girl, and hopefully whatever choice she, and the skaters at the end of this season, will make will yield the results that they’re hoping for.