The “blues” and the post-Olympic transition. Facing the future with serenity.

The “blues” and the post-Olympic transition. Facing the future with serenity
Part 1

By Amélie Soulard, PsyD

Psychologist and mental preparation consultant at the Institut national du sport du Québec

The return home of our athletes after the recent Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Games triggered some memories, sometimes painful, for athletes who have been retired for some time, including Olympian Sylvie Bernier. (Read her text published on the Radio-Canada website here.)

Some questioning and confusion are not uncommon for athletes returning from major competitions. For instance, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian all time, mentioned that he locked himself in his room upon his return from the London Games in 2012, not wanting to speaking to anyone. He admitted to experiencing depression, having suicidal thoughts, and finding comfort in drugs and alcohol before finally returning to train for the 2016 Rio Games.

Athletes often report experiencing the post-Olympic “blues” phenomenon. Sports psychologists and mental preparation consultants who support them also have their own stories to explain this phenomenon. Some refer to a post-honeymoon, while others compare it to postpartum depression. After the frenzy of the Games, after the popularity, it’s back to anonymity. Many athletes have even experienced financial problems, such as having to file for bankruptcy after the withdrawal of funding or sponsors, thereby making it difficult to resume training and sometimes forcing the end of a career and the need to find a job. Moreover, after achieving a long-term goal there is a void that settles in until the athlete sets a new goal or is involved in a new project.  There is also the hormonal hypothesis. After the Olympics, there is a decrease of endorphins or a drastic drop of adrenaline during the time off training.

One thing is for sure, despite the number of anecdotal reports, the phenomenon lacks empirical documentation. Most of the scientific literature on athlete transition is specific to the end of a career. However, when we talk about athlete transition, we have to understand that it is not only about athlete retirement. Throughout their career, athletes will experience many turning points. At each of these pivotal moments, for example, the transition from Junior to Senior level, the athlete has to go through an adaptation process.

Adaptation is in fact an adjustment to novelty and the unknown, a loss of familiar cues and structure, as well as facing one’s own social incompetence. The athlete, who must deal with a new parameters, must learn new behavioural responses. Adaptation also involves a change in identity. We have to become someone else and that is not easy!

Part 2 will cover the cyclical adaptation process and its three phases.

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