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16 Aug, 2009

Harnessing Talent – Coaching the Elite!

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coach Plus Articles|Coaching Articles

Harnessing Talent - Coaching the Elite!

Imagine, from an early age dedicating your life to one pursuit and being completely focussed on your goal – to consistently be the best you can be.  Now picture achieving your dream of standing on the winner’s podium receiving an Olympic medal; holding the Premiership trophy aloft with your team mates at the end of a successful season; or standing on the summit of the world’s highest mountain viewing the curvature of the earth.

Are you there yet?  Okay, now let’s get back our reality!

For many of us these will only ever be imaginations, but some have made these goals their reality.  However, nothing lasts forever and even the most successful performers become faced with the fairly unique situation of ‘retiring’ from their chosen profession, often at a relatively early age and with very little control over the time and circumstances. 

So what happens when our sporting elite reach the end of their careers?  I’m sure you can think of examples of those who seem to have pressed the self destruct button!  The reality is the practical and psychological impact on the individual’s sense of purpose, personal identity and self esteem can be profound. Even our most successful sporting champions can suffer from an identity crisis and lack of direction when entering the next phase of their life.  How they respond to this depends on a number of variables:

  • The reasons or causes for their retirement
  • How they feel about themselves and their ability to adapt
  • The resources available to help them adjust
  • The quality of adaptation to retirement
  • Intervention strategies employed by the athlete

See table 1 Taylor and Ogilvie’s (1994) conceptual model of athletic retirement

Table 1 – Taylor and Ogilvie’s (1994) conceptual model of athletic retirement -
 Five key steps of the retirement process

Stages of the model Components

Causes of athletic retirement

  • Age
  • De-selection
  • Injury
  • Free choice

Factors related to adaptation to retirement

  • Developmental experiences
  • Self- identity
  • Perceptions of control
  • Social identity
  • Tertiary contributors

Available resources for adaptation to career termination

  • Coping strategies
  • Social support
  • Pre-retirement planning

Quality of adaptation to athletic retirement

Determined as a result of the combination of the previous three stages

Intervention for athletic retirement difficulties

  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Behavioural
  • Social
  • Organizational

So what support is available to our sporting elite when they reach the end of their careers?  Until recently, the answer would have been ‘very little’.  However, help was on its way in the form of Dame Kelly Holmes. 

Dame Kelly HolmesKelly had experienced ‘retirement’ from a military career and Olympic competition so was well aware of transition difficulties.  Following her success at the Athens Olympics she knew her life was going to change, but wasn’t really sure how and realised she had a lot of thinking to do before she re-established who she was and what she would do when she was no longer an ‘Olympic Athlete’.

In March this year I was invited to attend a “Harnessing Your Talent Camp” organised by the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy TrustAs an ex-performance athlete and physical training instructor I was keen to find out more about the aspirations of the Trust and how my work as a Transition Coach might fit in to their programme for ex-elite athletes.  I discovered Kelly had taken a pro-active approach, not only to her own ‘retirement’ but also in paving the way for her fellow athletes to enjoy a smoother transition into the next phase of their life. 

The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust is creating an environment where retired or retiring world class performers can access support, advice and opportunities as they develop a new career, and it’s not all one way either; the beauty of the process is it goes full circle.  Keen to utilise the athletes’ amazing ability to inspire, motivate, guide and mentor, the Trust offers them the opportunity to harness their skills and experience for the benefit of young people and others in sport. Athletes ‘give back’ by assisting in the delivery of the Trust’s projects and programmes for young people in sport and education who most need their help.

Next Steps
So where would I and my fellow coaches fit in?
The DKH Legacy Trust Harnessing Talent programme is underpinned by available research, and seeks to help athletes through the challenges of career transition.  The coaching process starts with the aptly named Next Steps Session in which we use a variety of coaching tools to facilitate a journey of self re-discovery that begins to:

  • Explore their successes
  • Identify their values and relationship with their sport
  • Uncover their beliefs about themselves and others
  • Identify transferrable skills and areas for development
  • Discover resources and opportunities available
  • Introduce networks of likeminded people and organisations

Of course athletes aren’t the only people to have to cope with career transitions; those working in the armed forces and police services also need to consider early retirement strategies.  The current economic climate has added to this, with increasing numbers on the receiving end of ‘early retirement’ or redundancy.  Helping people through periods of transition is an exciting, fascinating and rewarding process.  So what are you waiting for?  Use your coaching expertise to help get them back on track. 

If you are interested in more information about the DKH Legacy Trust please call 020 7742 8600 or check out their website on

By Jacky Leonard

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