In order to prepare athletes for and support them during transitions, career assistance programs (CAPs) have been developed by elite sport organizations like a national sport governing body, universities, and private organizations. These CAPs generally consist of an integrated and comprehensive combination of workshops, seminars, educational modules, individual counseling, and referral networks providing individualized or group-oriented multidisciplinary support services to athletes with regard to their athletic participation, developmental and lifestyle issues, and educational and vocational development. Target groups for CAPs include prospective junior athletes, student–athletes, elite senior athletes, and retiring or retired athletes.
Some of the early established CAPs include the International Olympic Job Opportunities Program (OJOP), the Canadian Olympic Athlete Career Centre (OACC), and the Athlete Career and Educational Program (ACE). The OJOP was initiated in Australia, South Africa, and the United States to develop and create job opportunities for (potential) Olympians, by identifying job positions and providing a professional network, career analysis services, personal aptitude tests, and interview skills training. The OACC assisted athletes through the retirement transition by providing career and education planning, such as preretirement planning, clarification of career planning needs, life skills training, transition workshops, and a shadow program. The ACE provides career and education services for Australia’s elite athletes, including career counseling and planning, personal development training courses, educational guidance, employment preparation, career referral networks, transitional support, online services, referrals, and lifestyle management. High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Athlete Life Programme allows its elite athletes to work with an athlete life advisor to manage their sport lifestyle, career and education, personal leadership skills, and finances to minimize constraints and maximize opportunities that have the potential to impact sport performance.
During the past decade, several countries around Europe also established CAPs. In the United Kingdom, UKSport developed the Performance Lifestyle support service providing athletes the necessary skills to cope with the special demands of being an elite performer and to better prepare them for their life after sport. The British Athletes’ Lifestyle Assessment Needs in Career and Education (BALANCE) was designed to identify adjustment difficulties on 12 specific factors related to career retirement, including identity as an athlete, degree of occupational planning, transferable skills, the availability of career transition support services, experience with transitions, and social support and mentoring. In France, the National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance (INSEP) developed a project (Projet de vie du sportif de haut niveau), which includes career management support, support aimed at supporting elite athletes’ social and cultural life, vocational support, and lifestyle management. In Belgium, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel developed the career support program (Carrièrebegeleiding) for Bloso, the Flemish governmental administration in charge of elite sport. This CAP is based on a developmental lifespan perspective on the athletic career delineating normative (predicted and anticipated) transitional challenges that athletes will face throughout, as well as after, their athletic career and that will influence their development. It provides career assistance services focusing on the major transitions and career stages of the athletic (high-ability, elite athletes), the academic (primary, secondary, higher), the vocational (elite student– athletes, professional athletes), and the postathletic career (retiring and retired athletes). In 1988, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel was also the first Belgian university to establish a top-level sport and study department focused exclusively on supporting elite student–athletes to achieve academic and athletic excellence by providing services related to education and career management and life skills training. In Sweden, a particular emphasis is put on the combination of elite sports and education through a close collaboration between elite sport and educational institutions (e.g., national and certified elite sport schools). In the Netherlands, the Dutch Olympic Committee and Dutch Sports Federation (NOC*NSF) focus on providing services related to the combination of school and elite sport with specialized secondary and vocational schools and centers for elite sport and education, as well as for coping with career transitions and the postathletic career. This includes the project Goud op de werkvloer (Gold on the work floor), which, in collaboration with a private employment firm, aims at optimizing the vocational development of (retired) elite athletes and includes an active mediation between athletes and employers via, among others, specific job interview sessions for athletes, and the provision of flexible work conditions. In Spain, centers of high performance sport (Centro de Alto Rendimiento; CAR) provide specific services to talented and elite athletes. For example, the CAR Sant Cugat assists athletes in combining training and education (mentoring, tutoring), with access to employment (working experience) and personal development (retirement, finances). In Finland, the Finnish Olympic Committee collaborates with the Ministry of Education and Culture and a private employment firm in the Athlete Career Program (ACP). This CAP supports athletes in their combination of education and an athletic career and in (eventually) entering the labor market, as well as in finding a balance between sport and education and other areas of life and in coping with transitions during their athletic career.
Finally, it is noteworthy that the significance of CAPs has also been recognized at the European level. As part of a hearing on future European Union policy on sport, members of the European Parliament discussed the need to establish career assistance services for talented, elite, and retired athletes. Using the developmental lifespan perspective on the athletic career, recommendations and good practices were presented on the combination of a sporting career with education or work, on athletic retirement, and on the postathletic career. In parallel, the Sport Unit of the Directorate–General for Education and Culture of the European Commission developed, in consultation with European experts on elite sport, career development and career assistance services, specific guidelines to support the dual career of talented and elite athletes in the European Union member states. These include guidelines on, among others, sport academies and high-performance training centers, education (secondary, vocational, higher, and distance learning), health (medical support), employment (combination of work and sport; transition to a new job), finances (scholarships), and supporting services (career assistance; educational guidance).
Career Assistance Services
In light of the growing need for the provision of services to athletes, CAPs have been established worldwide. A survey among 27 CAP providers from Europe, North America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa showed that career assistance services generally served two aims: (1) providing assistance with transitions occurring during the athletic career and (2) providing assistance with the end of the athletic career and transition into the postathletic career. The services provided by these CAPs generally included education management, life skills training and lifestyle management, career management, financial management, and health management.
Sport psychologists were found to be part of the service provision at these CAPs, and were in general related to performance issues, life skills, and lifestyle management. In 82% of these CAPs, services were directed toward senior athletes, 70% toward retired athletes, and 59% toward junior athletes. The services provided by sport psychologists to senior athletes were related to goal setting (in 78% of CAPs), time management (in 74% of CAPs), media skills (in 70% of CAPs), coping and organizational skills (both in 67% of CAPs), and communication (in 63% of CAPs). With retired athletes, sport psychologists worked on the transition out of elite sport (in 74% of CAPs); goal setting (in 44% of CAPs); and communication, time management, problem solving, and organizational skills (all in 41% of CAPs). Sport psychologists provided junior athletes with services related to goal setting and time management (both in 63% of CAPs), communication (in 58% of CAPs), and media (in 56% of CAPs). Finally, sport psychologists were also found to provide clinical services to senior (in 41% of CAPs), retired (in 37% of CAPs), or junior athletes (in 33% of CAPs).
These findings reveal that sport psychology support provision aimed at enhancing junior, elite, and retired athletes’ coping with transitional challenges has become an essential part of career assistance services.
The developmental lifespan perspective on the athletic career delineates the normative transitional challenges athletes will face throughout as well as after their athletic career. In order to enhance athletes’ ability to cope successfully with these transitions, career assistance services should be provided in a structured way, based upon a developmental (from young to former elite athlete) and holistic (development in different domains) approach.
Elite sport governing bodies, such as national Olympic committees and international sports federations, are encouraged to take leadership in not only acknowledging the influence of career transitions on elite athletes and Olympians, but also in the provision of multilevel career assistance via well-structured multidisciplinary CAPs.
Sport psychologists have been shown to play a significant role in the provision of career assistance services to talented and elite, as well as retired, athletes. Building on the provision of psycho-educational services aimed at enhancing athletes’ coping with normative transitions (e.g., junior-to-senior transition, first national team selection, transiting out of secondary education, athletic retirement), sport psychologists can already provide for the long-term career development needs of talented, elite, and retired athletes. Further efforts should be made to develop sport psychology services assisting athletes to successfully prepare for and cope with nonnormative transitions, such as a seasonending injury, unanticipated deselection from the team, or loss of a personal coach.
Finally, while CAPs have generally been developed for athletes, elite sport governing bodies as well as sport psychologists should envisage providing career assistance services to elite coaches.
- Stambulova, N. (2010). Professional culture of career assistance to athletes: A look through contrasting lenses of career metaphors. In T. V. Ryba, R. J. Schinke, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Cultural turn in sport psychology (pp. 285–314). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004).Career transitions in perspective. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5, 7–20. doi: 10.1016/S1469-0292(02)00049-3
- Wylleman, P., De Knop, P., & Reints, A. (2011). Transitions in competitive sports. In N. L. Holt & M. Talbot (Eds.), Lifelong engagement in sport and physical activity (pp. 63–76). New York: Routledge.
- Wylleman, P., De Knop, P., Verdet, M.-C., & Cecic-Erpic, S. (2006). Parenting and career transitions of elite athletes. In S. Jowett & D. Lavallee (Eds.), Social psychology of sport (pp. 233–247). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Wylleman, P., & Lavallee, D. (2004). A developmental perspective on transitions faced by athletes. In M. Weiss (Ed.), Developmental sport and exercise psychology: A lifespan perspective (pp. 507–527). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Wylleman, P., Lavallee, D., & Theeboom, M. (2004). Successful athletic careers. In C. Spielberger (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied psychology (pp. 511–518). San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
- Wylleman, P., & Reints, A. (2010). A lifespan perspective on the career development of talented and elite athletes: Perspectives on high-intensity sports. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20(Suppl. 2), 101–107. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838 .2010.01194.