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‘High need to achieve’ – Bolt, Jordan and the quest to switch sports

From Usain Bolt to Michael Jordan, a select few elite athletes have attempted the switch to another top-level sport in a trait psychologists see as a “high need to achieve”, coupled with filling a gulf in their lives.

Apparently not satisfied with his eight Olympic titles, retired sprint king Bolt launched an ambitious attempt at a career in football before receiving a reality check in Australia.

The 32-year-old Jamaican, who remains the 100m world record holder, was on trial with the Central Coast Mariners until Friday’s announcement that the experiment was at an end.

Bolt’s abilities had been questioned, with the fitness levels and skill-sets needed for football very different from the assets that made him the fastest man on earth.

Martin Hagger, a world-renowned psychologist at Curtin University in Perth, said sports-hopping at the end of athletes’ careers was never easy.

“Athletes like Bolt have what psychologists call a high need to achieve, an innate drive that means they thrive on competition and the need to display to themselves (and others) high competence in a competitive arena,” he told AFP.

“This is also likely manifested in certain personality traits such as extroversion and conscientiousness.

“There is, of course, also the possibility of some level of narcissism, but that’s not necessarily an ingredient as many top athletes are not necessarily self-involved egos.”

Retirement can be a tough moment for professional sportsmen and women, with life as they know it changing completely. The adoration from fans is gone, as is the adrenaline rush of competition.

Many have struggled out of the limelight, notably Australian Olympic swim stars Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, who both battled their demons, including depression, after hanging up their goggles.

Hagger said this was part of the reason some attempt comebacks, or try to crack a new sport.

“The high need for achievement can also lead to a substantive gulf in the life of an athlete when they retire,” he said.                -AFP

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