B.J. Penn’s retirement and the circumstances surrounding it were intriguing to me for multiple reasons. Penn had achieved a great deal and held two titles in his MMA career. However, in stark contrast to ending his career on a high note, his opponent physically dominated him. Although all athletes must go through the transition from competition to retirement at some point, Penn was literally beaten into it. What extra challenges does an athlete face in terms of mental adjustment when they retire after an especially taxing (and in Penn’s case brutal) loss? Furthermore, are these challenges different for former champions? Are they different for athletes involved in combat sports?
As sport and performance psychology practitioners, I think there is a great deal we can learn from B.J. Penn’s retirement. He openly expressed very common emotions related to a desire to move on from sports. As a competitor and former champion, he was frustrated by no longer being able to live up to his own performance expectations. At the same time, what he valued most in life had shifted from his sport to his family. Ultimately, regardless of the sport or the circumstances related to an athlete’s retirement, our assistance could be very beneficial. Helping athletes re-frame their retirement as a choice to focus on other important areas of life (family, health, etc.), and encouraging them to direct the same passion they had for their sport to these important areas, will assist them in navigating what can be a tough transition.
Ciapala, D. (2011, October 30). B.J. Penn retires following UFC 137 loss to Nick Diaz: Fan’s reaction. Retrieved from http://sports.yahoo.com/mma/news?slug=ycn-10321189