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Female elite-level athletes and the transition into a post-sport career

Alex (London 2012 Olympics Hockey bronze medallist; University of Chichester honorary graduate) and Claire (2002 fencing Commonwealth gold medallist; Athlete Development Lead, Dame Kelly Holmes Trust; WSLA 2014 graduate) presented about their careers as elite-level sportswomen and the challenges and opportunities both have encountered with regard to their careers after competing.

Athlete transition into a ‘post-sport’ career is under-researched but a recommendation on greater support for retiring female-elite level athletes was included in the global women and sport progress report conducted last year by Elizabeth and Jordan.

Alex reflected on the path to producing excellence which led the Great Britain Hockey team to a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

This included being involved in the construction of a vision for women’s international elite-level hockey but also the difficulty faced when she was the only person chosen for the Games from the group of players she was living with.

Claire focused on the importance of having a key support team during periods of injury, constraints for women in fencing, and the development of her sport away from the stereotype of being elitist and inaccessible.

The support resulted in success at international level and she, like Alex, commented on the relentless determination to succeed.

Unfortunately, Claire was not chosen to compete at the London 2012 Games and admitted the difficulties she had in dealing with the feelings and emotions which resulted: “It burnt my ambition and I felt it hard to accept”.

She also reflected on the challenge she had that her CV was filled with academic qualifications and sports awards, but no experience, due to her dedication to fencing since the age of ten.

The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust gave her life coaching, structure, and employment after seeing her confidence rise.

She worked with retired athletes on transferring the skills they had in sport, such as teamwork and leadership, into work with disadvantaged youths, for example.

She now works with over three hundred recently-retired athletes and has helped to produce a framework for identifying different stages of a ‘journey’ after retirement from sport.

Alex and Claire also answered a range of questions from second-year undergraduate sport development and management students.

These included experiences of stereotyping, coaching behaviours, the impact of their dedication to their sport, and when they both began to think about retirement from sport.