The health and wellbeing of an athlete is not just important during their career, but also upon their retirement from professional sports. The obvious health issues associated with sports are often in the limelight, whether it is practicing in the heat, concussions, or wellbeing issues around long-term injuries. The risk for these injuries can continue even into retirement. Take Usain Bolt, who currently holds the record for the world’s fastest man — and who retired nearly 4 years ago — for instance. The Health Benefits of Poker for Athlete’s Retirement-
“I really want to stay in shape,” Bolt told Men’s Health earlier this year. “I really have to get myself into a routine because I have bad scoliosis, so that’s something that will bother me throughout my life, so I try to make time for it.”
Retiring from sports can have a psychological impact, as well. A 2020 study published in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health found that 20% of former athletes experience crisis transitions. To combat this, some athletes find their solace around poker tables, which is a great outlet for their desire for action if handled correctly.
Here are a few ways and benefits of poker can help keep an athlete’s mind and body stay fit, even into retirement.
It can elevate one’s mood
By competing at the top, athletes can find an outlet for them to keep busy during retirement, which helps them transition to “normal” life and protects their wellbeing. This beginner’s guide to poker outlines how the sport is still enjoyed by millions around the world. With countless online resources available to learn poker, it’s easier than ever to master the basics. For major sports stars, this gives them the means to compete at the highest level. Once there, poker becomes their substitute for competitive sports, and another means to feel the excitement from the crowd’s roar or the make-or-break decision upon which everything hinges. Take Fatima Moreira de Melo, who won gold in the 2008 Olympics and spent a decade playing hockey for the Dutch national team. Upon retiring, she moved into poker and has racked up more than $400,000 in winnings.
“(Poker) fills the gap of performing at a high level with pressure,” she said. “I’m competitive; I like that pressure. Competing at the highest level of poker fulfills a need of mine.”
It provides a sense of belonging
Another aspect of an athlete’s life that often gets overlooked is the camaraderie of the locker room, the togetherness a team spirit can forge. In fact, this feeling of togetherness is so important that a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that athletes in team sports were less likely to develop depression and anxiety. When transitioning into retirement, the fulfillment brought about by social interaction can be found at the poker table. Though the sport is competitive, it can also be a means of bonding with others — and even of forming friendships. One athlete who can attest to this is Kyran Bracken, who won the Rugby World Cup with England and played poker around a table with de Melo.
“It was her attitude and her sense of humor,” he said of the attraction of playing with her. “If there’d been four or five more Fatimas around the table, it would’ve been just like being on the bus with the rugby guys.”
It keeps the mind sharp
Meanwhile, other high-profile former athletes turn to poker for its cognitive benefits. Poker is a game that requires much strategizing, as one has to take into account the actions of other players and how that would affect their hands. A successful play thus involves crafting strategies that are creative and flexible, and this can help improve everything from working memory and concentration to patience and even emotional intelligence. Over time, this may reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases that come with age. Shane Warne was a world-class cricketer for Australia, and he needed to substitute the tactical side of the game with something else. Cricket is, at times, a tactical battle of wills, with one game lasting days on end. The competitive Warne saw the benefits of replicating that with poker after he finished playing.
“That patience you need to show in a test match – that’s five days, 13 hours a day – you need to have that at the poker table too,” he says. “You’ve got to ride the ups and downs, be patient and wait your time.”
It’s a source of motivation and happiness
For others, poker is just about replacing that competition with something else, that desire to just ‘beat the other guy’ and come out on top. This can help former athletes with their crisis transitions significantly by serving as a means for them to redefine their purpose in life outside physical, competitive sports. For former NFL star Richard Seymour, this was his motivation for pulling up a chair at the poker table.
“It’s all about the competition. With tournaments, everyone starts equal. It’s not about the money; it’s about the love of the game. Sports people love to compete on the highest level. The only way to get better is to compete against the best. I enjoy the moment. I enjoy the pressure.”
Ample evidence proves that poker provides a great outlet for athletes struggling to adapt to life away from the packed stadiums and adoring fans. If you’re an athlete yourself or are interested in all things sports and fitness, check out our collection of sports features here on Ostomy Lifestyle.