Over the last three decades, the sports research community has demonstrated a growing interest in the process of sport retirement. The majority of the sport retirement research has focused on male professional athletes, traditionally those in the popular spectator sports. Yet, the process of leaving sport applies to thousands of individuals, both male and female, who engage in competitive sport. To date very little consideration has been given to the retirement experiences of female athletes. Three separate studies have been undertaken to address this identified gap in the literature.
Studies One and Two aimed to explore the experiences of sport retirement for elite female athletes in Scotland, using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. In Study One questionnaire data was collected from 92 former Scottish elite female athletes. Questionnaire sections were designed to examine what were felt to be the major elements of the Taylor and Ogilvie (1994; 2001) conceptual model of adaptation to retirement from sport, in order to explore the applicability of this model to female athletes in Scotland. The results of the study provide support for the use of this model to assist in our understanding of the retirement transition.
The findings highlighted the importance of athletic identity, reason for retirement, and perceptions of control in predicting the level of difficulty and adjustment that an athlete may experience upon their retirement. The most significant finding was the effect that athletic identity had on the retirement process, with those identifying strongly with the athletic role reporting significantly higher levels of difficulty, emotional adjustment, and social adjustment. 29 of these athletes participated in an in-depth interview within Study Two, enabling a more in-depth analysis of their retirement experiences. In this study particular attention was paid to the effect of athletic identity on this transition. In support of the findings of Study One, athletes with a strong and exclusive athletic identity were found to be more likely to experience difficulties when they retire. In comparison, athletes with lower levels of athletic identity generally experience some mild negative emotions after initially retiring, followed by a relatively smooth transition into their life after sport.
The second part of this thesis examines formal programmes available to support female athletic retirement in Scotland. Study Three provides an evaluation of the Performance Lifestyle programme offered by the Scottish Institute of Sport, focusing in particular on the services related to preparation for life after sport. The perspectives of a number of different groups with an interest or involvement in the programme were examined and comparisons made with the delivery of Performance Lifestyle to other athlete groups in Great Britain. The results show that Performance Lifestyle is a very valuable source of support for athletes who are part of the Institute Network. The programme does deal with the issue of the end of the career, but it is definitely a weaker aspect, largely due to lack of resources. Performance Lifestyle in Scotland compares favourably with programmes offered by the Institute Network in England and by Welsh Rugby. However other professional sports are currently offering superior programmes due to higher levels of investment and resources.