Always an Athlete

  • Author(s): Blackburn, Jenné
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2023-10-13
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $24.95 | Buy Now

“Always an Athlete by Jenné Blackburn is a must read for all athletes and coaches, because Jenné has done a fantastic job of breaking down the anxiety surrounding that transition from active athlete to retirement and how to better equip ourselves for this moment. Here is the thing—as athletes, we know retirement is eventually coming. We worry about a loss of identity, yet we don’t often know how to deal with that loss of identity and community. Teammates feel like family, and Always an Athlete helps you build a parallel community that also inspires confidence and courage. Most important, Jenné offers fabulous guidance and strategies for athletes and coaches alike, so that BEFORE we hit our “cliff moment” of transitioning out of our sport, the apprehension is replaced by action, knowing sports has given us a platform to soar.” – Julie Foudy, former captain of USA Women’s Soccer Team, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, 2x World Cup Champion, and an analyst and reporter with ESPN and Warner Bros Discovery

Always an Athlete is a comprehensive study of the ways in which athletes climb what author Jenné Blackburn terms “The Mountain”—the journey from youth sports, through high school and college sports, to, finally, professional and Olympic sports. This steady climb and success over a long period of time, however, sets up athletes for an inevitable fall off “The Cliff” upon their retirement from competition.

To help athletes in transition, Blackburn identifies “Three Pillars of the Cliff”—mental health, physical health, and athlete identity—and describes the issues that athletes have in each of these areas after they retire. After training, sacrificing, and devoting years, even decades, to a sport, athletes at every level will struggle within these three pillars. Blackburn believes that athletes must evolve from a competition mindset to a wellness mindset and match their new lifestyles in order to soften this transition into the real world. Fortunately, the “Inner Athlete” honed over many years of training and competition can show up as a “Parachute” as athletics recede and other priorities rise to the forefront of their new life.

Ultimately, Blackburn proposes cycling as a foundation and universal tool to help retired athletes resolve a lingering loss of identity, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and complications due to unchanged diet and exercise habits when they transition out of a performance-purposed existence. She advocates for fun community bike rides adjacent to sporting events and franchises to bring sports communities together around this critical yet overlooked topic for all athletes: life after competitive sports.

JENNÉ BLACKBURN is a graduate of Baylor University, where she competed on the Women’s Indoor Volleyball team. She was awarded the Student Life Achievement Award, Baylor’s highest honor for a student, for her work pioneering programs in the sports department and other international initiatives. Her research interests include women’s empowerment and the intersection of sport and community development.