What To Do When The Music Stops?

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Recognise the pair in the photo? Full marks if you copped it was Declan Kidney and Brian O' Driscoll holding up the Six Nations trophy in the 2009 Grand Slam victory homecoming in Dublin.

Wishful thinking that another one might be looming in a matter of weeks in Ireland's capital.

But after a weekend when Jonathan Sexton was hailed as a hero for that last minute drop goal, new research has been published indicating many sports stars struggle when full time is called on their playing careers.

More than half of former professional sportspeople have had concerns about their mental or emotional wellbeing since retiring, according to a new survey.

Talk of retired athletes  "losing their identity" when they finish playing sport, experiencing "loss", "regret" and "devastation".

One in two ex-players of the 800 who responded to the English Professional Players' Federation survey did not feel in control of their lives within two years of finishing their careers.

"It is not unusual to hear players speak about feelings of mourning and grief when they retire," says Simon Taylor, chief executive of the PPF. "Transition from professional sport can be a daunting prospect. The fact that retirement for sportsmen and women normally happens in their 30s only compounds the problems."

The research covered former players from the Rugby Players' Association, the Professional Cricketers' Association and the Professional Footballers' Association.

The struggle to find a new purpose can lead to more serious problems such as depression, self-harm, addiction and financial problems. Even the best-prepared athletes can struggle. 'Retirement can be like a grieving process" said one.

A focus on success can hinder an athlete's prospects of planning for life after retirement. 

Sport has improved in recent years in the welfare and transition help it provides to athletes.

Only four in 10 of those who felt they had an issue with their mental and emotional wellbeing had sought help. Only three in 10 former players were able to choose when they stopped playing professional sport. And just over half of respondents reported financial difficulties in the five years after stopping playing.

Are things any different in Ireland? Doubtful. While no money changes hands for playing GAA, no doubt the adulation is just as addictive. 

So many Irish people have excelled in rugby, soccer and in the Olympics it doesnt seem like a big jump in thinking to assume they have have suffered similarly.

If you're a current player reading this - what's next? If you are a fan, maybe cut them some slack when they hang up the boots.

You never know what people are going through, as these findings indicate.


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