(Thank you for overwhelmed requests from international sports community and English readers to translate my original Bahasa Malaysia column to an English version. So here you go, and I hope this sharing will make a difference in one’s life.)
It is a sad scene to see a former Malaysian elite athlete looking for temporary shelter, one selling guava by the street and another taking advantage of her beautiful voice hoping for some sympathy at a mall, but having said that, there are also former athletes who have made successful transition to be coaches and work in corporate world.
Life after sport is challenging for most elite athletes. I have been there and the struggle is real. After a 20-year journey as a Malaysian elite and professional squash player, my world changed as I had to make massive transition to a new career.
I was lost too. I hear you and I see you.
Sincerely with all my heart, I hope this personal sharing of mine will be life changing guidance to my fellow athlete fraternity in transitioning to a new world, and to create awareness to the members of the public that the athlete’s community need their support.
Because of ego, honor and reputation, most athletes rarely admit that facing the reality of a new world is extremely difficult.
They do need time adapting to it, especially retiring as a prominent athlete impacting the sudden loss of financial resources including emotionally and psychologically effects.
Our Malaysian squash queen, Datuk Nicol David, recently announced her retirement by June 2019 and I bet this is the hardest decision of her life, as squash has always been her identity.
Every retired athlete goes through at least a light depression directly or indirectly, and it is as painful as the feeling of breaking up with the loved one, or grieving losing someone special in life.
It is scary to even ask, “Who am I after sport?”.
Sadly, we have heard stories of a former national athlete being cheated, a former Paralympic athlete singing at the shopping mall, and, most recently, 2016 FIFA Puskas Award winner Faiz Subri selling perfume.
Grateful of my past athlete career with lots of joy and tears, here are my eight points of advice to my fellow athlete fraternity who are preparing for life and career after sports.
1. Think of possible career after sports
Be flexible on your career options. It could be in the sports industry or other industries. Just make sure it is close to your heart and somehow related to your strength.
Early planning is crucial in terms of career, financial, personal relationship as well as mental and emotional health. Do list down what skills, experience, qualifications and assistance needed. It may be too late if you only start planning on the day of your retirement.
3. New Skills
It can be very intimidating out there. It is normal to feel inferior among your colleagues but as long as you prepare to work hard, be humble and keep learning, you will excel in no time.
It is advisable to take suitable courses while competing in preparing for career after sports. Always stay proud and practice all the positive traits that you learned from your athlete’s journey.
4. Life goals
Athletes often list down goals to be achieved in sports and this can be applied to your goals of life after sports. With this, athletes are more ready and have a smoother transition with a planned direction.
5. Social network
It is important to mingle and get to know friends from different industries and backgrounds. This is to ensure that the athlete is open-minded, knowledgeable and not confined only to the sports world. Communication skills and well-rounded knowledge as well as real life skills are very useful.
6. Get support
No one is perfect. Athletes are idols to many, but in preparation for a new career, there are few aspects that need to be polished such as communication skills, writing CV for interviews and management abilities. Get advice from former athletes who have had positive transitions, and even from the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS) through its National Sports Council (MSN) department, MACE.
7. Disappointment is part of transition
Well, that is life! Just move on and keep your head high. Athletes need to accept that their celebrity status will end one day and there will be less attention. There is a possibility that the support and privileges will not be given as expected. It could crush your heart. But my advice is to move on, stop whining and only you have the answer to set your own new destiny.
8. Be confident and brave
Yes, it can be a culture shock especially in adapting to a new schedule and way of work and life. It is normal to feel ‘small’ among your experienced new colleagues. Be confident and brave. Just be honest of own weaknesses and work on it.
Athletes have always been role models to the society, especially to the children and youth. Move on to a new career and life with pride, and I always believe with preparation, support and lots of courage, new challenges of life after sports can be exciting and life changing. You can do it.
Sharon Wee is a proud Malaysian. She actively champions athlete and youth leadership and personal development as well as women empowerment programs. She was a world no.18 squash player and a respected team captain. A tough but a beautiful transition, she is now a TV sports presenter and commentator for Astro Arena, a qualified international Level 3 squash coach, a motivational speaker and certified trainer, and an entrepreneur.