Career Assistance Programs

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.


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