Star athletes are famous, wealthy and loved by fans across the world, yet when it's time for them to retire they struggle through some of the same emotional and financial challenges endured by more traditional clients. The major difference, of course, is that most pro athletes are forced to deal with retirement at a much earlier age, when replacing their work identity and finding that next passion in life is more important than Social Security. 

As with our regular clients, star athletes have to make the decision to retire, adjust to life at home, fill newfound time, and maintain their wealth.  Recently, I had the opportunity to interview several retired professional athletes on a number of topics, most notably retirement. Their insights were both enlightening and reassuring in the sense that even accomplished athletes go through this major life transition and must adapt and adjust.   Advisors looking to add a fresh perspective to their retirement planning discussions can use this exclusive look inside the lives of champions to help their clients plan for and live their golden years with equal passion and commitment.  

Work Can't Love You Back

My interview with pro football hall-of-famer and multi-sport star Deion Sanders provided a number of insightful thoughts on retirement.  When I asked him about his own retirement and how he handled the transition, he was quick to point out, "Most guys don't understand that playing the game is only what you do ... it's not who you are.  Players who fall in love with the game get heartbroken because the sport doesn't have a heart or the ability to love you back."

"You want to walk away from it while you can," Sanders continued, "otherwise you can lose your sense of purpose and stability."  He made that point even more poignant by stating, "That's a profound statement because those that let the game walk away from them are often the ones who end up crying at their press conference and unhappy with their home life."

That powerful attitude is something advisors can share with clients, whether they are a CEO, doctor, retail manager or assembly line worker. Too often, people confuse who they are with what they do; or unknowingly fall in love with aspects of their work life that can't love them back. By simply changing the questions they ask clients about retirement decisions, advisors can inject this new wisdom. 

Instead of asking the cliché retirement question, 'When are you going to retire?' advisors can add a fresh perspective, and open the way for deeper conversation, by asking, "Are you going to walk away from work or let it walk away from you?" A question like this not only gives your clients pause as they think it over, but it also allows advisors to talk about their experience with other clients and how they transitioned into retirement. We all have clients who made a smooth changeover and others who have and still are foundering.  By introducing what can happen mentally (instead of just financially) to clients who are tied too closely to their work, advisors can move their value beyond that of market performance and investment selection to comprehensive retirement expertise.  

Health Is Wealth
It's not uncommon for a young person heading off to college, and life on their own, to gain the 10 to 20 so-called "freshman pounds." Similarly, the transition into retirement can have the same effect on people as they enter a new phase on life ... bringing great aspirations and a sense of freedom but no grand plan to take care of themselves physically. Oftentimes people think the extra time they have in retirement will provide the motivation to be healthier than when they were working, but habits take time to both make and break.

Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller was forced to retire from her sport at age 19. When I asked her about the days and weeks following her last days as a competitor she said, "I didn't know how to be a regular person. I went through a time where I really had to think about who I am. What do I get up and do every day?  Once retired, I initially watched a lot of TV, gaining four dress sizes on my 5-foot frame.  It was very disheartening but it helped me realize I had to find my next passion in life."

"I had to set new goals," she said, "without really knowing where they may take me.  Going through that transition taught me that it doesn't matter how many gold medals you have, everybody faces the same issues."

If an Olympic gold medalist struggled with exercise and nutrition at age 19, I think it's fair for advisors to discuss what may happen to clients at age 60 or 65 if they don't establish healthy eating and exercise habits prior to retirement. It's becoming somewhat cliché to tell clients they need to practice retirement before throwing in the towel, but it's often a general statement without direction. 

Advisors can turn this generic advice into something meaningful by simply asking clients to write down between three and five healthy habits they want to start or continue in retirement.  Then encourage clients to start doing it right away instead of waiting for retirement. Help them pick a day to start cooking one healthy meal weekly; work with them as they set days and times they will wake up early and go for a walk; or help them enroll right now in a couple of classes that help them learn yoga or cooking skills.  Reiterate that time doesn't automatically turn into motivation. We're creatures of habit and our habits -- both good and bad -- take time to make as well as break.