Switching up Sports: The Competitive Drug within

With the news that Rio Ferdinand is to launch his pro boxing career, the ever-present BT Sport pundit is to join an exclusive list of previous footballers who have swapped football boots for the iconic red gloves.

But it’s not the first time we’ve seen an athlete convert from one discipline to another. Previously Rebecca Romero has transformed from Olympic medalist in rowing to Olympic medalist in cycling, becoming the first British woman to win Olympic medals in two different sports in the process.

Sticking to the Olympic trend, in more recent times Adam Gemili quit a promising footballing career with Dagenham & Redbridge to captain Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Whilst 9-time World Champion Victoria Pendleton has forged her way into a new career as a jockey after retiring from the Velodrome in 2012.

What is it within sport stars and high-profile athletes that drives them to leave the comforts and safety of their chosen sport or even retirement, to take on challenges completely out of their comfort zone?

To succeed in any walk of life, competitiveness is a must. Arguably the most crucial element within sport is that will to win which drives athletes on to give that little extra, whether that is in training, playing for Manchester United or representing your country on a world stage. But, is competitiveness a drug?

The majority of athletes become associated with their sport from an incredibly young age and are put through the most strenuous and rigorous training to become the best they possibly can be in that sport, it engulfs them and becomes their whole world.

An athlete gets ‘hooked’ on that surge of endorphins when they test themselves or set new standards. It becomes a constant battle for an athlete to want to try to continually better themselves.

Earlier in the year, Olympic medalist Michael Jamieson shared an insight into his training and the extent his body would go through on a day to day basis in the pool. Jamieson documented that after his success at London 2012, his drive and desire to succeed became so much so, that he ended up pushing his body over the edge and his heart went into arrhythmia and he was rushed to hospital mid-session.

A case of competitiveness taking over?

What happens to that competitive emotion that’s been relied on for twenty or thirty years, once you’ve called time on your career? How do you cope without getting those endorphins which you’ve relied on for so many years?

Some athletes find it easier than others and don’t miss the buzz which came with their sport. But some desperately still need that ‘fix’, so what can they do?

They look down other avenues to find a similar rush of emotions to re-gain that buzz.

All athletes must face the prospect that one day they will have to hang up their boots/bike/googles *insert equipment here* and some can come to terms with that easier than others. Rarely do we see a high-profile figure completely walk away from their sport.

The enigma that is, Bjorn Borg walked away from tennis in the 1980’s at the age of 26. By walking away from the sport and favouring a quiet uninterrupted life, it added to his legacy, as it’s so unheard of.

The bulk of athletes or sporting figures want to stay within the sport once they have retired, as it’s what they have always known. Many want to stay within touching distance of something that they ‘used to do’. Slowly pulling away from that competitive environment that they are so used to.

I’m led to believe that the ‘competitiveness drug’ is a double-edged sword for most high-profile athletes. It can drive them to greatness but will they ever be content or will the drive for more success always be a burden on their shoulders?

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