In fact, when I look at the "also-rans", the people who almost made the Olympic or world team, the people who went to the Olympics and went out the first round, generally did better subsequently than the winners. Pure speculation on my part here, but maybe those people who were number two or three in the country realized that they needed a fallback plan and so focused on their academics or building a career during their competitive years.
It's not a complete separation. There are some people like Dr. James Wooley (who was on two Olympic teams), Senator Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (who was on the 1964 Olympic team) and, I'd like to think, me, who have had athletic success and went on to have successful careers and seem to be relatively happy. There is also Dr. Gerda Winkelbauer , an M.D. and world judo champion from Austria. I believe Olympic gold medalist Sue Williams has a Ph.D. in Chemistry.
The key is really simple: Work on your Plan B while you are still competingIt was 1978 and I was at the collegiate national championships. After I had won and we were waiting for the medal ceremony, I was up in the stands with my textbooks, studying because we had finals when I got back. Several feet away was another guy studying for exams. That's why my friend introduced me to James Wooley, because she found it hilarious that we were studying at the national JUDO championships. I found it odd that we were the only two who had brought backpacks full of books. I mean, it was the COLLEGE championships, no?
The same year I first won the U.S. Open, I started my MBA program. The reason this was a good thing was because I got used to being the person who didn't know anything, whose job was to grade 85 of the same essay exam. Not only did I learn how to read a balance sheet, design a database system and write a business plan, I also learned to not be such a prima donna jerk (admittedly, that last part took longer).
While I was training, for the world championships, I was working as an engineer at General
When I'm not rambling on about judo and other sports, I'm making games. Please check them out. You can learn math, social studies, build your vocabulary. Here are some free games and demos for you just because I am so nice.
Dynamics, learning a lot about manufacturing and programming. So, when I retired from competition at 26, I had an MBA, a full-time job and several years of post-graduate experience.
You don't have to have a law degree or an M.D. When you retire. Steve Seck was successful as both a wrestler and judo player. He reasoned that teaching physical education was one area where both of those accomplishments would be valued. He got his degree in Physical Education while competing. Right after retirement, he earned a teaching credential and masters degree and he's done quite well.
I tell kids all of the time,
"Have a plan for competition! In the middle of the match is not the time to figure out what you want to do."
The same is true of life. Have a plan WHILE you are competing and work on it.
I was extremely fortunate that when I was training at Tenri Dojo in Los Angeles there were several people who had been nationally ranked competitors, and who were 5 or 10 years older than me. It was right in front of my face that their later success had very little to do with their success on the mat and everything to do with their preparation for life after judo.
Oh, and get some credentials. I get resumes from people that include what tournaments they have won, what teams they are on and I just shake my head. If you're applying for a job, you might put "4th degree judo black belt, 2004 Olympic team member" and, unless the job has something to do with armbarring people, that's it.
Get a degree. Get certified as an EMT or a real estate broker or something. Work a summer internship. Get a job in your field and start building your professional network.