Retirement Process in Sports – Interview with Athletes

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Every athlete's journey ends with retirement. In this article, we look at how different athletes decided to retire from their careers. Whether unexpectedly or intentionally.
Retirement in sports - hurdles

As a young athlete, you don’t always think about that one day you might not be doing the sport you love.

It’s the dream, to be able to be doing that sport until you retire and not worry about getting a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out.

In this post, we’ve spoken with three Estonian athletes. Two of them are officially retired from their professional career and one of them has started that process.

I’ve seen how fast an athletic career can change but I never understood it. I always knew I was going to be an athlete my whole life. Now looking back I kind of wish I had a plan B in hand just to be prepared. The day I realized my athletic career was over I panicked, didn’t know what I want to do. Luckily for me, I managed to figure it out really fast.

Talking to these athletes, it became really obvious that these kinds of decisions don’t come very lightly.

Usually, retirement has 3 phases.

  1. Decision and thought process
  2. Making retirement news public and finalizing the decision.
  3. Deciding what’s next.

Shot putter Ants Kiisa

Ants Kiisa used to be one of the best in his event, and he even got the chance to represent his country in the Olympic Games in 1996.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get to choose how to end his career, his injury did it for him. He was very athletic and he had never had any serious injuries.

In 1996, he was getting ready for the Olympic Games. The week before the main event he managed to tear his quadriceps and with that end his athletic career completely. This injury was totally unexpected and to get this kind of injury a week before the Olympic Games can be devastating.

Ants Kiisa putting on his protective band to his wrists
Ants Kiisa

With that kind of injury, it became obvious quite fast that there’s no coming back from it, so immediately he needed to start thinking of a plan B.

Ants Kiisa managed to find a new passion for himself: coaching. He has been a coach for over 20 years and counting. He has achieved great success over the years. There’s no way of knowing how good of an athlete he would’ve become if it wasn’t for the injury. That’s just the way it is in professional sports, you never know when your career might come to an end.

Olympic Winner, discus thrower Gerd Kanter

Gerd Kanter is a discus thrower from Estonia who retired in 2018. He has accomplished a lot in his career, has 1 Olympic gold medal from 2008, and a lot more from different championships.

Gerd Kanter grew up in an athletic family, he had always imagined himself doing sports for his entire life. But at a certain point, he started to realize that being on the highest level will only be one stage in your life, it’s not permanent. It’s good a learn a good profession just in case the unexpected happens. Because your athletics career could end at any minute due to an injury.

Gerd Kanter throwing a discus during the competition
Gerd Kanter. Photo source:

The decision-making  process

“There were a lot of factors when it comes to making a decision that big. One would definitely be the age. The original plan was to end my career in 2016 after the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with a medal.

After the Olympic Games, I still felt like I could compete with the other throwers so a decision to push the retirement to 2018 was made. It’s hard to make that kind of decision by yourself so I made this decision with my whole team- family, coaches, physiotherapist.”

Making this public

When making the news about retirement was made public there were a lot of mixed feelings from the media. Because Gerd Kanter chose to end his career 2 years before the next Olympic Games so a lot of questions about why not push it through until the Olympic Games in Tokyo were brought up.

“The decision wasn’t hard, in 2015 I had my first surgery (sports hernia) and in 2017 I tore my pectoral muscle, so my body was already letting me know it’s time to stop.”

What’s next

After his career, he decides to still stay in sports. In 2016 he was chosen to be the head of the Estonian sports committee and in 2017 he was elected to be the head of the European sports committee. After his own professional sports career, he has started coaching career as well.

“Doing sports at a professional level for 20 years, the amount of knowledge you get, it would be a waste to not pass it on to other athletes. If I have a chance to be a coach then I would rather do it. Since retirement, I got to go back to one of my other hobbies- playing basketball.”

Before becoming a discus thrower Gerd Kanter wanted to become a basketball player. He even applied to sports high school to become one. After not getting in he then later started his career in the discus throw.

Estonian’s women’s national volleyball team player Anu Ennok

Anu Ennok hasn’t fully ended her career yet, but she has made it official that she has started the process.

Anu Ennok is an Estonian volleyball player, she has represented the national team and has played club volleyball in other countries as well.

At the beginning of April 2020. She came out with a statement that she will slowly start her journey to retirement. Anu has stated that she won’t be playing in the professional leagues anymore, but she will still play to make this transformation as normal as possible.

The decision-making process

“I’ve always had a deal with myself, that if my body will start showing signs of tiredness, I will stop. Every athlete has these small problems, but shoulder and back play a huge role in volleyball, there’s no joking around with these injuries. So my decision didn’t come suddenly. I knew approximately a year before I made it official that it’s time.”

Anu Ennok preparing for a service
Anu Ennok. Photo by Mati Hiis

“I come to that decision myself, I think my physiotherapists are rather pleased that finally came to that decision. To be honest they have been telling me for a while, that it’s time to stop.”

Making it public

“It’s tough to stop this kind of life in an instant, that’s why I chose the more subtle option. Meaning I will still play for the national volleyball team and then as the new season comes I will try to keep volleyball in my life but not as a full-time job anymore.”

“Making my decision public wasn’t hard, because people around me already knew about it. I think when you are happy with the decision it shouldn’t be hard. It’s just a huge change in your life that you need to adapt to.”


It’s really important to always be aware that one day you might not be doing the sports you like and choose another profession.

When you are making your SMART goals, keep in mind that your career could end at any second. Having a plan B up your sleeve would be a smart thing to have.

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