Professional self-fulfillment process of student-athletes at the stage of retiring from elite sport


Associate Professor, PhD N.V. Belyakova
Professor, Dr.Sc.Psych. E.A. Petrova
Associate Professor, PhD A.V. Romanova
Associate Professor, PhD N.N. Akimova
Russian State Social University, Moscow

Keywords: university athlete, professional career, elite sport.


National sports advancement is ranked among the top priority policies by the Russian government. It is the persistent government efforts to support the national sports and promote healthy lifestyles that largely encourage children and adolescents being lured to sport groups. In just a few years, many of them are ranked with the “national golden stock”. It should be born in mind, however, that sooner or later each of them will have to leave elite sports. Generally, a long-term sport career may be classified into the following three stages: (1) background sport training that lay a foundation for elite sport career; (2) active career in an elite sport; (3) life after leaving the elite sport. It is the sport-leaving and further vocational self-determination stage when the athlete has to make a decision on a further self-fulfilment model in general and professional career in particular [1, 2, 3] with due provisions for good social status, mental balance, well-being and safety [4, 5].

Objective of the study was to provide scientific grounds for and help optimize the university athlete’s professional career management models after retirement from elite sports.

Methods and structure of the study

Subject to the study were 60 (30 men plus 30 women of 18-27 years of age) Correspondence Department Bachelors specialized in Physical Education at Russian State Social University (Moscow). At the first stage of the study, the subjects were surveyed by questionnaire to rate their own fitness for a professional career. At the second stage of the study, the D.A. Leontiev Life Values Test (LVT) was applied to rate their career priorities. And At the third stage of the study, we used a projective phrase-construction psychiatric evaluation test based on the Carl Jung Word Association method with a tested subject required to finish phrases offered by the tester.

Results and discussion

The study data and analysis showed only 28% of the tested subjects being highly fit and dedicated for successful career as provided by their responses. Most of these students were found to have asserted themselves in one or another area, with some acting as university activists, some content with their family lives, and the others devoted to their favourite sports or professional career etc. On the whole, however, the test rates were indicative of the low dedication for successful professional career. Dominating among the reasons for the low dedications for professional career were the low personal willingness to attain goals; and the shortage of personal resources for success (poor background/ abilities/ experience; high competition etc.).

Based on the first test session and interviews with the subjects, we assumed that it was the low level of commitment and inadequate alignment of life priorities that were the most likely reasons for the low dedications for a professional career. With this assumption in mind, in the second test stage the subjects were surveyed to explore their life goals and priorities.

Average test rates of the tested young women were much higher on the “life goals” scale than that of the young men. This fact may be interpreted as indicative of the young women being more active, determined and focused on success in every action they plan. On the other hand, these high rates may be due to the young women being more inclined for setting unrealistic goals that cannot be attained by the really available means. And it is not unusual to find these goals being dominated rather by future marriage and family values than a professional career. The tested young men generally showed much lower test rates as their personal plans were found more realistic, more inclusive and more related to the professional area – that may be indicative of their personal plans being better thought through, more focused and better timed.

Test rates on the “Life processes” scale were generally interpreted as indicative of the interests and emotional intensity of the subjects’ lives. The tested young women showed the highest average test rates for the reason that most of them tend to accept their life processes very emotionally as bright, full of hopes, expectations and senses. The young men, in contrast, were found mostly unsatisfied with their present lives, albeit inclined to see their lives being full of senses and values in the past, including the past sport accomplishments.

Test rates of the young men on the “Life effectiveness” scale were notably higher than that of the young women – and this fact was interpreted as indicative of their high self-rating of the past life accounts. Young men were found to be more sensitive to the effectiveness and senses of the past experience and to value it higher; and this might be the reason for their more positive attitudes to the personal self-fulfilment process.

It is the self-rating of the professionally important qualities and abilities and the locus-control data that play a key role in the personal attitude to oneself as a professional. We performed the relevant tests to better understand the professional career related attitudes of the students. The “Locus of control “Identity” test scale was used to profile the subjects’ conceptions of their own personality. The test data were rather interesting in the sense that the young men showed particularly high test rates versus that of the young women. Most men were found to conceive themselves as strong personalities totally free in choosing their own ways and designing their life models in line with their personal goals, values and priorities. The subject young women showed notably lower rates in this test that was interpreted as their higher disbelief in the own powers and real abilities to control their life processes. Moreover, some of them confessed in the interviews that they have lost something important in their lives (made wrong vocational choice; left the favourite sport; faced problems in finding a spouse etc.).

The Spearman’s rank correlation calculations were used to rate the life priority factor contributions to the professional-career dedication levels of the tested subjects. The results were interpreted as indicative of the high professional-career dedication levels being directly correlated with the well-though life priorities and goals and their perceived attainability rates. The high and mean professional-career dedication levels were found correlating with the scores on the “Life results” scale (rs = 0.604). Furthermore, the high professional-career dedication levels were found to correlate with the high test rates in the “Locus of control” test ( rs = 0.519) that means that the subjects better dedicated for professional careers perceive themselves as masters of their own lives fully capable of controlling them.

The low professional-career dedication levels were found to correlate with the high test rates in the life-values test (rs = 0.604) that may mean that these subjects tend to live in the present being reluctant to design long-term life schedules; the same correlation was found with the low rates of satisfaction with the present life associated with permanent nostalgia for the past. The subjects tested with low professional-career dedication levels were rated low on the “Locus-control” test scale that may mean that they are inclined to perceive their life as dependent on external factors beyond their conscious control.

In addition to the personal-career dedication levels, the subjects may be notably influenced by social factors. In the interviews many of them mentioned different career options in one or another area. However, the question of what particular career areas and conditions are of special influence on the self-assertion of personality in the university period was addressed by the “Unfinished phrase” psychiatric evaluation test. The test data were interpreted as indicative of the most (41%) subjects considering their jobs as a key positive factor of influence on the self-fulfilment process. About 30% of the subjects believe that the university studies are rather of negative impact on the self-fulfilment process. Some tested subjects noted in the interviews that the education process is pleasant for them albeit the travels to and from the sessions and preparations for them claim too much time and, therefore, detrimental for their professional careers as they negatively affect their professional growth process. The educational activity as such was largely perceived as unrelated to the professional career. Every third tested subject believed that family and its development efforts are counterproductive for their personal professional careers.

The survey data were quite diverse in rating the education process and family life as factors of influence on the professional career. On the whole, most of the young men were found to perceive the education process and family life as the factors distracting from the professional career; whilst some young women were found to perceive them as the factor supportive of the professional growth.

It is not unusual that the professional career implies some barriers that need to be overcome on the way to success in the self-fulfilment process. These barriers may be associated with family, friends, surrounding and the shortage of the resources/ knowledge/ energy/ courage/ self-confidence etc. for the progress. Moreover, some subjects in their goal-setting process tend to see some barriers on the way that may hamper their progress in career. Some of them tend to move towards the goal despite the barriers, whilst the others never take efforts to implement their plans for the reason that they are afraid of the awaiting hardships.

To facilitate the subjects’ conceiving the barriers on the ways to self-fulfilment, they were offered to continue the phrase “I am afraid of…”  Most of the tested men were found to rank high the risk of different uncomfortable situations among the barriers for the self-fulfilment process, and many of them believe that such situations may emerge through no fault of them, albeit be of significant negative impact on their career. Most of the tested young women tend to believe that it is the feeling of loneliness and isolation that is one of the most serious barriers for success in a professional career; or rather negative emotional conditions on the whole that would force them to give up and make no more attempts to attain important professional goals, develop hobbies etc. It is common for all the tested subjects that most of their fears come from the social surroundings and public opinions.

To further rate the basic grounds for a professional career in views of the tested subjects, we made a dream analysis, i.e. proposed them to continue the phrase “My dream is…” It should be noted that most of the responses referred to realistic dreams that would provide good grounds for their self-fulfilment; e.g. they dream of obtaining new knowledge and skills; making the world better and brighter; making happier the lives of their nearest people; i.e. they view the self-fulfilment process as the way to do something good for their surroundings, families and nearest to be loved and appreciated by them. Furthermore, the dream analysis showed their aspirations being not always dominated by the professional career; and this trend was particularly expressed in the young women’s responses – as their interests and dreams were larger focused on their personal life and family values. In addition, the dream analysis gave the reasons to conclude that most of them dream of getting the means of influence on the social environment; whilst self-fulfilment is essentially the externally and internally going process that implies self-perfection among other things.

Of special interest for the study and analysis were the phrase-construction responses to the test words “Struggle for…” Most of the tested men believe that struggle gives the chance to assert oneself, fulfil the personal desires, make success and prove own meaning to the surrounding. It should be noted in this context that most of the tested subjects believe that struggle and self-fulfilment are the basically close notions.  Most every of the tested young men, for instance, believes that it is only through a persistent struggle that their personal desires may be fulfilled; and nobody of them mentioned that struggle may not always be sensible; whilst most of the tested women were found to believe that struggle makes no sense.

The self-fulfilment models and sources of the vitally important choices were revealed most vividly by the phrase-construction responses to the test words “If I could…” These responses were the most indicative of the fact that the self-fulfilment models of the tested subjects were dominated by the desire to have some influence on other people by acquiring the relevant social status and making success or at least looking successful.


The tested university athletes at the sport-retirement stage were found only partially dedicated for a further professional career. It is the dedication level that was found to count in this case since the educational process in its traditional forms makes no provisions for a professional career. The study data and analysis demonstrated that the high self-fulfilment dedication rates correlate with the high life goal-setting rates, goal-understanding and the goal-attainability rates plus the high locus of control rates – that means that these subjects perceive themselves as masters of their own lives fully capable of controlling them.

The low self-fulfilment dedication levels were found to correlate with the high test rates in the life-values test – that may mean that these subjects tend to live in the present being reluctant to design long-term life schedules; the same correlation was found with the low rates of satisfaction with the present life associated with permanent nostalgia for the past. 


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