Objectives: This study examined factors that might facilitate or hinder self-identity formation and adaptation to athletic retirement among a sample of competitive athletes.
Designs: As adjustment to retirement problems can be pronounced in women's artistic gymnastics due to the young ages at which participants begin and end their competitive careers, the experiences of five former female gymnasts were studied.
Methods: Respondents participated in retrospective, semi-structured interviews yielding transcripts that were analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results and Conclusions: Results revealed that participants had been encouraged to dedicate their lives to gymnastics and were, as a result, left feeling lost and helpless when they retired. After prematurely adopting an identity based solely on their role as a gymnast, many of the participants knew little about who they were and what they wanted to do with their lives, and were consequently forced to distance themselves from their past in order to establish a new identity apart from gymnastics. For those whose felt a constant external pressure to strive for excellence during their career, this process was particularly challenging and has lasted, in some cases, for the duration of their retirement. Distress can be avoided by engaging in pre-retirement planning from a very young age and subsequently maintaining control of the transition out of gymnastics by reducing participation gradually and finding a meaningful replacement.