Disability Sport Info

High-Performance Sport: Athlete transitions and retirement out of elite sport

May 24, 2023 Dr Chris Brown Season 4 Episode 9
High-Performance Sport: Athlete transitions and retirement out of elite sport
Disability Sport Info
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Disability Sport Info
High-Performance Sport: Athlete transitions and retirement out of elite sport
May 24, 2023 Season 4 Episode 9
Dr Chris Brown

In this episode, I'm joined by Dr Andrea Bundon to discuss the transition and retirement experiences of Parasport athletes. We consider the current support and experiences of athletes who are exiting the sport. We discuss the impact of being declassified, an issue unique to Parasport, and how this impacts the athlete. Finally, we appraise how post-playing career support and guidance for athletes can be improved. 

Link to Project PRISM: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/phc/impact/project-prism/

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, I'm joined by Dr Andrea Bundon to discuss the transition and retirement experiences of Parasport athletes. We consider the current support and experiences of athletes who are exiting the sport. We discuss the impact of being declassified, an issue unique to Parasport, and how this impacts the athlete. Finally, we appraise how post-playing career support and guidance for athletes can be improved. 

Link to Project PRISM: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/phc/impact/project-prism/

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Transcript of Disability Sport Info episode, ‘High-Performance Sport: Athlete transitions and retirement out of elite sport’

 

Key

Speaker: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK) 

Speaker: Dr Andrea Bundon (Participant – Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia, Canada)

 

[00:00:29] Dr Christopher Brown: Hi Andrea. I'm delighted to have you on my show today. So I've got Dr. Andrea Bundon, who is gonna be talking about the end of career experiences for Paralympians, and also transitions out of Parasport as well.

So I think to begin, Andrea, could you talk to us about what the retirement experiences are for Parasport athletes? 

[00:00:48] Dr Andrea Bundon: Thanks, Chris. The honest answer is not a lot's known about the retirement experiences of Paralympic athletes. There's been very, very little research in this area. Most of the publications that do exist are, let's say, a little more theoretical or end with some sort of, these are the things we should be attentive to, when considering the retirements of Paralympians.

But there's very little empirical data. What I can tell you is what Paralympians do not do after retirement. And that is that we see very, very few Paralympians going into roles in sports. So working in sport past their own athletic career. And the reason I can say I know this, is simply because when you look around in the sport organisations, we see very few retired Paralympians in coaching roles, management roles, or other sport related professions. That's where some of my research started was looking around and realising, if you look around most sport organisations, you see a lot of retired Olympians, a lot of retired elite athletes, and far, far fewer retired Paralympians.

So what is it that they're doing when they leave sport? 

[00:01:57] Dr Christopher Brown: Why do you think that is? Why do we have that disconnect in the Parasport world compared to maybe the Olympic world? 

[00:02:04] Dr Andrea Bundon: Yeah, well, there's several reasons. In a project that I worked on in the UK, Project PRISM, Paralympic Retirement Insights Support and Management, what we were looking at there as we interviewed a number of Paralympians who had recently retired, recently left sport, talked to them about what they were doing since, and also, what they were thinking about as they entered into that transition phase? And what we heard from many of them was that they hadn't thought a lot about what they would do next, but also that not many people had discussed with them opportunities to stay in sport or to transition into another role in sport.

Many of them indicated that would be of interest to them. I think we know that athletes, you know, they like sport. They supposedly have some expertise and experience that would be very valuable in our sport sector. But they were unaware of what opportunities existed, or they had looked around and found very few opportunities.

So, one thing that most definitely was discussed with these participants was that we talked to them. Okay, so maybe you're considering coaching or managing. Others assumed that they would only be interested in roles in Parasport, or only able to perform roles in Parasport. So if you think about it, Parasport is growing, growing in popularity, growing in numbers.

There's still very, very few full-time careers in Parasport. There are not nearly as many, you know, regional teams that have a full-time coach or a full-time manager. So the opportunities that exist are like usually at that Paralympic elite level. Most of the other opportunities are volunteer, part-time, very casual, very informal.

So, because the assumption was that they would be looking for a role in Parasport, there simply wasn't that much available to them. Now, the question that I'm interested in is, why could a Paralympian not be working in our non-disabled sport system? Our integrated sport system, our mainstream sport systems?

Whatever you want to call it. Because you do see a lot of non-disabled people coaching Parasport. It's very, very rare to see a disabled person coaching a non-disabled programme. So that would immediately open up doors. But there is an issue of discrimination there, and there is an issue about the assumptions about what a Paralympian could be doing in the sport system. That they would only be interested and only be able to work in the Parasport stream.

[00:04:38] Dr Christopher Brown: Interesting. Were those assumptions from the Paralympians themselves or from organisations, or both? 

[00:04:45] Dr Andrea Bundon: In Project PRISM that I referenced, we spoke with athletes, so I can't say what the assumption was in the organisations. They spoke about, you know, discussions they would've had with their Performance Lifestyle Advisors, just in terms of discussing with their own coaches, you know, opportunities to maybe get into coaching.

And they did raise that as a point, that the opportunities that were being discussed were opportunities in Parasport. In a subsequent project I did here in Canada, where I spoke with people with disabilities who were involved in coaching, most of them were coaching in Parasport. Many of them wanted to be coaching in Parasport, felt that's where they could make a contribution.

But a few were either coaching both Parasport and non-disabled sport. And one or two were coaching non-disabled sport, exclusively. And they talked about that as being a really challenging area to sort of break into. 

I don't know what the organisations would say, but I think if you look around, I would struggle to name many disabled people who are working in non-disabled sport.

[00:05:50] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah, no, certainly. Obviously, it's never nice for an athlete to think about when their career's gonna be over. You know, it's, it's always that, you know, difficult conversation that needs to be had, but you don't want to have it. So, was it because the athletes themselves weren't asking the right questions or weren't looking for the information? Or it was just that information was not being provided, even if these athletes were thinking about retiring and their end of career?

[00:06:15] Dr Andrea Bundon: That's an interesting question. I mean, Project PRISM, that's now going back, probably eight years since we carried out that research and it started as interviews. Things have changed a bit. I hope they've changed. We worked very closely with the EIS on that project, and some of the findings were implemented.

But you're right. I mean, talking to athletes about transitions and retirements, in general, is probably not happening enough across our sport system. I think there has been some great research in athlete retirements in the last few years, and there's certainly been organisations that understand this is part of their role and have started to put in place more supports for athletes transitioning out of sport. But that issue of when to raise it with an athlete, is still a very, very tricky one. And it's also, you know, the athlete, you want them to have some autonomy over this, too. 

We're doing a project right now here in Canada with my collaborators, Dr. Erica Bennett, Dr. Peter Crocker, and one of my PhD students, Lisa Trainor, where we, it's not about retirements. It's about following athletes over time in their careers, and understanding the various circumstances, stressors they encounter, and how they adapt and cope. But in the process of that, we've been interviewing some of these athletes since the start of the pandemic. So since April 2020, probably. We've had multiple interviews with them over time. And we're hearing these conversations about, not necessarily I'm ready to retire, but like, this has happened in my career. I'm facing an injury. I was deselected. I just went to the Games, and I'm trying to figure out my next step.

And one thing that is coming out of those interviews is they're a bit cautious about when to raise the issue of retirement with their sport teams, because, you know, if you're not sure that you're about to leave sport, is it really to your advantage to let your coach know? What's going to happen? Is your coach gonna start questioning your commitment to the team? So like at what point do you actually initiate that conversation can be a really challenging issue for both Olympic and Paralympic athletes. You know, they sometimes keep that quite close until they know that they are ready to start that process. So that would be one thing. 

The other thing that was discussed in the Project PRISM with athletes was, a lot of athletes saying, I wish someone would've talked to me about this earlier. And not because I was ready to retire earlier or because, but like we should have been talking about retirement, from the day I arrived at the National Training Centre. That you don't need to wait until it looks like the end of the athlete's career, or you know they're injured, or they're not seeing the returns they used to in their training, or they're at risk of being deselected. Why couldn't that conversation have happened right from the start? Because the one thing that's guaranteed is they're all leaving sport one day.

These careers are not going to be permanent things. So even though you don't know the circumstances or the timing, we could be talking to athletes a lot sooner, and that doesn't have to have a negative connotation. 

[00:09:30] Dr Christopher Brown: There was some really interesting thoughts there and topics. I'd like to pull at a few if I can.

First of all, when you're talking about you know, when is the good time to talk about it with the coach and, yeah, you're quite right, you know, a coach might think, oh, hang on, are they thinking of retiring? Is their heart not in it? Is there something that I don't know about their performance?

And, presumably, also it works the other way around? You know, the coach saying to the athlete, oh, what about your retirement options? The athlete might think, hang on, what's going on here? 

[00:09:57] Dr Andrea Bundon: Am I deselected? Well, no, we care about you from a holistic perspective and have you considered what you're going to do next?

I think that could be a very positive conversation, but it's often not framed that way. 

[00:10:11] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah. And also these athletes, they only have, what I don't know, 12 years max, maybe, or 15 years, depending on how the sport and the nature of their performance level, at least at the high level, if they're lucky.

They want to focus on getting the most out of their ability, obviously. And contemplating retirement just probably isn't on their radar. Why would it be? You know, you wouldn't necessarily be thinking about retirement options when you're 20 or your thirties. But, like you said, the sooner it happens, the more preparation you can have, and the more support that can be provided.

I think you made a good point about; I don't think it's just Paralympic sport where we have this issue. There's plenty of other sports where you see, you know, some players, if they're in football, or even in the Olympic situation where; they just feel bereft when their career's over. Because they don't know what to do, you know. It was their life and then that's it. So, if it's bad in mainstream sport, it's going to be, probably, even worse in a Parasport context. That's usually how it works, unfortunately. 

[00:11:10] Dr Andrea Bundon: Well, and you picked up on one of those points, I think, is a unique consideration for Paralympic sport, and that's the duration of the athlete's careers.

There are some Paralympians who have had very, very long careers. I think there's only one or two Olympians who have attended five or six or seven Games. I know we've got one equestrian athlete in Canada who maybe made seven Games.

But in Paralympic sport, there's actually a number of athletes who do multiple, multiple Games cycles. There's a few reasons for that. The stage of development of Parasport, rapidly changing. We are at a very elite, high-performance moment. But there have been times when, you know, the fewer numbers, lack of a competitive field, have meant that an athlete might be able to stay in it a little longer than we would expect to see an Olympian in the same sport.

If they have an impairment or a classification that is perhaps even less represented, or less competitive, or fills a particular role within the team, you know, the team needs to have an athlete with that particular classification for various reasons. That's another reason you could see a Paralympian staying in the sport a little longer than we might otherwise expect.

I think that is changing. The more competitive, the more the pathways are developed, you don't see athletes being able to stick around quite as long. But that has been an issue in Parasport, is that athletes perhaps overstaying. I don't really like using that term because, you know, I was an athlete, it was great.

Why would I leave if I don't have to? But there were a few cases where I was interviewing athletes and you realise that they're staying, perhaps because they don't know what their next move is. They don't know what the options are to them. They might be actually ready to end that athletic career, but it might be advantageous to their sport for them to stick around.

Like I said, maybe they need an athlete in that classification. Maybe they don't have another athlete coming up to replace that athlete. I think that's a very unfortunate situation. And it's not healthy for the athlete. It's not healthy for the sport, right? You want athletes to be able to come in, perform, leave on their own terms. But, ideally, leave when they're ready, and not stick around because they don't think they have another option. So that can come into topics of what's next for an athlete. And I talked about, we see very few Paralympians working in sport. We see more now. I'm not saying they don't exist. They do exist. They absolutely exist, but limited options to stick around and work in sport. 

When you look at employment rates of disabled people, I don't know the numbers in the UK right now, I know the numbers in Canada. It's about 60% of disabled people are employed and many of them are underemployed, either in jobs that don't fully utilise their skills, or in underpaid work or casual work, compared to about 80% of the non-disabled population.

So, if you are in a position, you're an athlete, you're not well funded, but you're managing. You know, it's working for you and this is the only thing you've ever known. And then you're looking around and realising what the job opportunities are for you outside of sport, and understanding there's gonna be a lot of discrimination, that entering the workforce won't be easy. You might be more inclined to stay than leave. So, there's that, 'what are you going to do next', factor. And when you're not sure about what you're going to next, or when there's a lot of fear and concern about what's next, athletes are going to stay maybe longer than they really want to. 

[00:14:53] Dr Christopher Brown: A really interesting point about the fact that there's less opportunities potentially, or there's certainly more discrimination and more barriers, when it comes to employment for disabled people compared to non-disabled people. And yeah, I think they cut across multiple contexts in multiple countries. Yeah, certainly Canada and the UK, there's definitely a discrepancy between non-disabled and disabled individuals. 

For your Project PRISM, I've had a look at some of the data, but I'm just interested in your perspective. Was there a difference, in terms of knowledge of retirement options and then actual exits out of the sport, between those who had acquired an impairment versus those who were born with their impairment?

I don’t know if you were able to drill down into that level of detail or not. 

[00:15:33] Dr Andrea Bundon: I'm not sure. I mean it's qualitative research. We're not going for that sample size to be able to say there was a statistical difference. However, yes, there were some differences between. I'm not sure I would break it quite out between those who had acquired impairments and those who had congenital impairments. There were differences between those who had been previously employed, prior to entering sport, versus those who had perhaps entered sport without prior employment. And if you think about it, many of those who had prior employment, were those who acquired their impairments, right?

It's not quite as simple as that, but absolutely, those athletes who have perhaps had full-time employments, had completed their education, had full-time employment, had that experience, acquired an injury, then entered into Parasport, many of them had actually stayed employed or, you know, were working part-time or we're working, consulting or had their own companies, while they were doing sport. And that certainly had an impact on their retirement. And they felt more prepared. They understood what their options were compared to an individual who had perhaps never had that experience of working outside of sport, had been a full-time athlete.

The other difference that we saw was less between acquired impairment, congenital impairment, but I would say between generations. And here I can be pretty specific to the UK. The UK invested very, very heavily in Parasport the moment the London Games were awarded, so sometime around 2004, we see this like dramatic investment in Parasport. Prior to 2004, para-athletes, even though I would've considered them full-time athletes, I mean, they're doing all the training that's required of them. They're prioritising their sport. They weren't being well funded, so almost all of them had something else, right? You know, one of them described it as, like, well, sport wasn't a hobby, but it also wasn't a job.

I had a job. So they were in an environment where they had to support their sport careers some way. Some of them were doing that fundraising, so they were working, I guess it wasn't employment, but they were the ones fundraising for the sport. They were the ones organising their travel. They were the ones sometimes running their leagues and competitions, right? So they acquired a lot of skills just to stay in sport. Whereas the sort of next generation, what I call the London cohort, those athletes that really entered the sport system in that big wave of investment, they had a lot done for them.

They were pretty well supported. I don't say that as a criticism of them, this is, you know, we want our athletes to be well supported, but they're coming into a sport system where they need equipment. Great. Someone's getting them equipment. They're traveling to an event, someone's booking that travel for them.

And there were most definitely differences in those retirement experiences of the athletes who were able to really, let's say take that prior experience, whether it was in the formal workforce or whether it was informal things they did to support their sport careers. They could translate that into other skills or they could translate that into other employment.

The athletes that really came into that more supported system, struggled more. And that's a really strange thing, I think. I remember reporting that back to the EIS and sort of going like, you're telling us we're overs supporting our athletes. And you're like, well, not really. It's just that like athletes need to have some agency, they need to have some autonomy, they need to have some responsibility.

And if they're not learning that, while they're in sport, think about what's going to happen to them in the next steps. And I heard athletes, I heard participants saying that of like, either I was glad that not everything was done for me, or I really didn't realise everything that was happening in the background.

And I came out feeling very unprepared. 

[00:20:01] Dr Christopher Brown: Really interesting. Yeah, it's there's always something, isn't it? There's always something that needs to be worked on and developed, no matter what the situation. And for listeners who aren't fully aware, EIS is the English Institute of Sport. Which is like a high-performance sporting body in England, obviously. 

You may not know this again because of the nature of the study. Were there any differences between sports, in terms of how prepared some of the Paralympians felt?

[00:20:26] Dr Andrea Bundon: We surveyed, I want to say it was about 60 or 70 athletes, and then we interviewed 12, right? So the real rich data is coming from those 12 interviews, and I'd be a little wary of making claims based on, we didn't have enough athletes from each of the sports.

But, yeah, there were a few things that I think stood out to me. One would be what I just spoke about, how well supported the athlete was, sometimes had actual implications for their transitions out. Well, the same thing. Some of the sports, I mean, even though I said there's been an investment in Parasports, there's been an investment in some Parasports more than other Parasports; that would be a consideration. 

There's a couple of sports that I think are worth looking into a bit further. And these are the para specific sports where there is no non-disabled equivalent. So you've got boccia, wheelchair rugby, goalball. I'd be hesitant to make any real strong claim, but I do think there is something unique about those sports because those, first of all, they're the ones that were most likely to have athletes then transition into management roles or coaching roles or, you know. They have more of a history of being organised by disabled people, and they have more of a history of having disabled people within their organisations, right? Partially because there is no mainstream or non-disabled equivalent. So, you see more wheelchair users coaching wheelchair rugby than many of the other wheelchair sports.

So I think that is kind of a unique aspect that we could look into a bit further. Yeah, that would probably be the main consideration. The other thing that came out of Project PRISM, and that I think continues to be an interest for me, is the issue of classification and athletes who get classed out of sport.

And that's more likely to happen in some sports than others, I guess would be the other part of that. 

[00:22:21] Dr Christopher Brown: And that is a fine segue to my next question, which was about how in one of your papers you did discuss that some athletes were forced to retire because they were declassified, what does that mean? 

[00:22:33] Dr Andrea Bundon: I mean, one thing I hear when I'm speaking to people in the sport system about Paralympic athletes' retirements is like, surely Paralympic athletes are the same as they're athletes. They're athletes first. Like, they will have all the same reasons for retirement, all the same experiences as our Olympic athletes, and I'm like, yes, they will, right? Athletes are athletes, and they're going to have made the same experiences and same reasons. 

Declassification is something that's really unique to Paralympic sport, and as a result is not particularly being considered or addressed within the sport sector. So declassification. I know your listeners are probably pretty familiar with classification. It's the process of determining whether or not an athlete is eligible to compete in Parasport. So classifying their impairment and saying this is an eligible impairment for Paralympic sport, or specifically it's eligible for this sport and this sport and this sport.

And then further placing athletes into categories so that they're competing with others who have similar impairments, or whose impairments would be considered to have similar impacts upon their sport performance. So declassification is a term that's used to describe a few different circumstances.

One is that an athlete's impairment changes, and they are no longer eligible for Parasport. Or their impairment was never stable, I think is probably the best way of thinking about it. So you have athletes who, when they're classified initially, are given temporary classifications, or classifications that are going to be reviewed on ongoing basis.

And this is the case for athletes with, let's say, a progressive condition. As well as for athletes who are at that boundary of the minimal impairment to participate in Parasport. So the decision is made that, yeah, they're eligible now, but we're going to continue to review this. And it could happen that the next time they get classified, they're not eligible.

And that is a really, really tricky situation for an athlete of, first of all, just not having any certainty, right? You're planning your sport career, and you actually could show up at the next competition and find out that, guess what, you're not eligible to compete. So that's one form of declassification.

The other declassification happens when the classification system changes. So the classification is constantly being reviewed. There's classification committees at the IPC and across all the sports, and they are constantly refining. They would probably say refining the classification process. And you know, as new research comes in, as new forms of testing or evaluation are developed, how the classification is done can change.

And then the other way it can change is the sport governing bodies can decide that, actually, certain classes of athletes are no longer eligible. So, we're no longer going to include this group of athletes in Parasport. And I'll give you a couple examples.

Right now there's a massive overhaul of the classification process for visually impaired sport happening. And it's going to impact every one of the sports that has visually impaired and blind athletes. And, essentially, up until now, the classification for VI athletes across all sports has been the same.

You're looking at visual acuity and range. The field of vision, sorry, field of vision. And what's come out is that, you know, vision matters differently in different sports. So if you're skiing down a mountain, white snow going at speed, fields of vision are gonna be very important, as well as your ability to like track you know, while moving. Whereas, if you're playing or if you're running track and field, fairly controlled environment, is going to matter differently.

So the classification for VI athletes is going to change, and it's already changing in some sports, to test different components of vision, I guess, of sight. And different components will matter in terms of whether or not an athlete gets classed into that sport. 

When they do this overhaul, when this gets implemented, many athletes are gonna find out they're no longer eligible. And it's not that their vision has changed, their eyesight is exactly the same as it was before this process. It's that different aspects of vision and eyesight are being measured, and some of them won't qualify. And this could happen to an athlete who's been competing in Parasport for 10 years. And they were eligible and now they're not.

And that is a very unique type of, let's say, forced retirement, that really, I can't think of a parallel in Olympic sport. You just show up and one day you were in and the next day you're told that you're not eligible. That's a traumatic retirement. This is setting someone up for a really hard retirement. The other reason it's hard though, is because, yeah, obviously, being forced out of sport, not wanting to retire, not expecting to retire and having it happen so rapidly is tricky, is because it's not really well understood by others.

And I have interviewed athletes who've been declassified exactly that circumstance. They showed up, the things that were being measured, and the way they were being measured, were different than previously. And this time they were not classified. They shared with me that others then questioned whether or not they had been intentionally misrepresenting their entire careers. That maybe they had been faking or playing up their impairment this whole time.

You know, one said that I was made to feel like a cheat. I was made to feel like I had been dishonest. It was like I'd been caught doping. But like I hadn't done anything. I showed up for classification. Same as always. I did what was asked of me and I didn't change. The classification changed.

 You know, the general public doesn't really understand the classification process, so they don't understand why someone would be declassified. This also was internalised by some athletes who then questioned, am I really disabled? I've been told I'm not disabled enough to compete in Parasport, but I'm the same person I always was. I have the same impairment I previously did. It's impacting my life in the same way. I'm still experiencing maybe chronic pain limitations in my ability, but suddenly I'm not disabled enough. In addition to dealing sort of like the public's perception, like I said, it really impacted how their identity, how they self-identified.

 You know, some of the athletes I interviewed, this was two or three years prior to our interview, and this was still something they were dealing with. 

[00:29:20] Dr Christopher Brown: Well, it was really powerful. I mean, yeah, like you said, I can't think of a parallel context that would equate to some of the experiences that these individuals would be going through.

And obviously, athlete welfare's a very hot topic at the moment. You know, the need to support athletes, you know, mental health challenges, et cetera. And so not only are you potentially gonna be losing your wealth, your livelihood. Like you said, you're gonna have these potential internalised feelings about whether you are disabled enough or face accusations that you were cheating.

Surely, there's an obligation for support to be provided to those athletes where they do become declassified. Is there any support in place for those athletes who are declassified? 

[00:30:00] Dr Andrea Bundon: When we were doing Project PRISM, no. I talked to an athlete, went to classification, was told in front of her team that she had not been classified, and was put on the next plane home. And when I spoke with her, she had not heard from her sport organisation in any way. Now, that was one of the reasons we were doing Project PRISM and I was working with the EIS and their Performance Lifestyle Advisors. And my understanding is that some of that work led into, basically, an early identification process. Because some of these classifications we probably can't foresee.

Some of them we can, like I said, there's changes happening right now. There's an overhaul of the classification for VI athletes. We might not know exactly which athletes are gonna be classed in or classed out until that's fully implemented, but we do know reclassification is going to happen. We know that it's probably gonna be the athletes who are currently in that, let's say, the minimal impairment groups. It's probably not gonna be your fully blind B1 athlete. It's gonna be your athletes who are in the margins of the classification system already. So working specifically with those athletes, to help them understand that this process is happening and these are the possible implications, that's incredibly important.

The same thing, or similar thing I guess, recently happened in wheelchair basketball, where a decision was made that a certain group of athletes were just no longer going to be eligible. You might not have known exactly which athletes, but you knew that decision was coming down. So being able to provide support with athletes to even just make them aware that this is a possibility, that's a big step.

I believe you've got a guest on your podcast or you will have a guest on your podcast who's talked about pathways as well, or research pathways, and also talent transfer. So that is the other way of approaching it, is just because an athlete is classed out of one sport, declassified, they may still be eligible for another sport.

So that's something they might want to consider. And that's certainly something I'd say the sport system has. They've invested in that a little bit more because it's to their advantage to find another sport that. You know, you've invested in an athlete, they're high performing, they're trained. If there's another sport, they can transition into that could be a great scenario for all involved. So there has been some investment in this, I would say in recent years, but still not enough. 

[00:32:25] Dr Christopher Brown: Yes, there's still lots of work to do in this area. For sure to make sure that there's enough support and care as well for the athletes because obviously these are humans, after all. They're not just, you know, commodities. And also, you know, like how can we expect individuals to carry on in the sport if they're just declassified and then, oh yeah, that's their life taken away. You're not gonna have that progression, are you? Of course.

[00:32:45] Dr Andrea Bundon: No. Many of these athletes who are declassified want nothing to do with sport. 

And that would be the other part of this is, you asked what support is being provided, there are parts of the sport system that are intended to support athletes for a period of time after they leave their sport, their athletic career. So one being the Performance Lifestyle Advisors at the EIS. In Canada, we have a programme called Game Plan, and the Game Plan Advisors provide a lot of post-retirement and transition related support. That support, it varies by country, but it's often for a limited amount of time, maybe three months, maybe six months, maybe one year or two years. That is probably the longest I've seen of saying you can access these services. Well, if you think about that athlete who found out very suddenly their sport career is ending, they're not happy with the circumstances, it might take them a year to pick up that phone or to answer the phone call, even if the sport organisation is trying to support them. They may want nothing to do with that sports organisation. And I did interview a few athletes who said that, you know, like offers were made, but I wasn't in a position to take them up on anything. And now, a year or two down the road actually, I'm wishing they would call again. So maybe extending that support. 

The other suggestion that was made was that, maybe that support does need to come from the sport sector, broadly speaking, but maybe it doesn't need to be the same sport psychologist or the same advisor that was affiliated with your team and that you dealt with during your career, right? That might be a bit too close. Maybe you want to work with another professional. 

[00:34:26] Dr Christopher Brown: And again, you've got very good segues into my next questions. And also just for listeners, the podcast that Andrea was referring to was the talent identification development chat with Dr. Joe Baker. So that is available for to listen to. So promotion for his podcast as well. 

So, final question I think because it's a really fascinating area, could talk about it in so much more detail, but we have to wrap this podcast up as soon. So you have mentioned some of these points. So, apologies if you're gonna repeat yourself here, but how would you, if you were given all the power to make these changes, how would you improve the services for athletes so that they have better retirement pathways and understanding of how they can transition smoothly into a career outside of their elite performance? 

[00:35:10] Dr Andrea Bundon: For me, what it really comes down to is there's two taboo topics here. One is that taboo around talking about retirement with athletes, right? Assuming that retirement is going to be either a negative experience or something that's just gonna sort of happen naturally and doesn't need to be prepared for. And that if we're talking about it with an athlete, it's because we think it's imminent, rather than, as we've discussed, that notion all athletic careers end. It’s to everyone's advantage. The team's advantage, the athlete's advantage. If we can just have those conversations openly, and sometimes that can be creating opportunities for athletes at various stages in their career. So talking to an athlete that is close to retirement, having sort of a mentor almost network, creating networking opportunities for athletes still in sport with those who've left sport. So that intergenerational conversations and saying, you're all gonna retire someday. Let's have a chat about it. 

The other one is the taboo around talking about disability. You know, the number of times I've heard like athletes are athletes, or we're providing the same service to all our athletes; we see them as equal. Our Paralympians are getting exactly what our Olympians are getting. That's great. That's needed. But what if providing the same thing is not preparing them the same way, right? So the difference between providing equal and providing equitable services. And having, whether it's Performance Lifestyle Advisors, sports psychologists, other team members, who are comfortable talking about disability-related issues, who are knowledgeable about disability-related issues like, you're writing your CV, when are you going to disclose you have a disability? Have you talked to other people with disabilities working in this field about their experiences? Do you understand what employment is going to mean for your disability benefits? That's one that like, is usually not on the radar of any of the advisors but is a big concern for athletes. Like, if I'm full-time employed, I might actually have my benefits clawed back. So, just being open to having those conversations with athletes, raising these topics, even if you don't know everything about it, acknowledging that this is some of what they're facing. 

And then very, very closely tied with that was, we need more disabled people working in this field. We need more people who understand those topics because of their lived experience, and who are very knowledgeable, and can help prepare the next generation of athletes to transition out of sport. 

[00:37:37] Dr Christopher Brown: Excellent. Yeah, so it's some really, yeah. Great insight. And it's been fascinating chatting to you, Andrea. Like I said, we can go on for a lot longer, but we have to draw this podcast to a close.

So thank you ever so much for spending your time with me. I know you're gonna catch a flight later, so good luck with that. But thank you so much for yeah, taking the time to speak with me and letting the listeners know about end of career experiences and transitions out of the sport.

So it'd be great to catch up with you soon, Andrea. And thank you for joining me. 

[00:38:03] Dr Andrea Bundon: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed speaking with you. 

[00:38:06] Dr Christopher Brown: Great. Thank you. 

*** Discussion ends ***

[00:38:07] Dr Christopher Brown: That's it. That's all we have time for. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Disability Sport Info Show. Stay tuned for another episode. Until then, goodbye.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

 

Introduction
What are the retirement experiences of Parasport athletes?
Declassification
How to improve the experience of athletes transitioning out of Parasport
End of discussion
Conclusion to the podcast