If there is one thing elite athletes struggle with the most, it's probably retirement.
Injuries are demoralising. But most of the time, they heal.
Bad form, as the cliche goes, is temporary.
But the finality retirement brings can sometimes be unnerving especially for those who have seen the world from the very top. Inside the hearts and minds of athletes, it churns up questions.
Questions like these were probably behind Michael Schumacher's sensational comeback to Formula One in 2009 at the age of 40. Not in the Ferrari colours that F1 fans associate with him. But under the banner of Mercedes.
Questions like these also led Bjorn Borg to mount a comeback bid 10 years after stepping down. With a wooden racquet!
Questions like these made Michael Johnson come back to basketball. Twice.
Closer home, Abhinav Bindra flirted with the idea of calling time on his career, branding himself a 'hobby shooter', before going on to participate at the Rio Olympics.
Steve Waugh faced no such dilemmas when he walked away from cricket in 2003.
He also did not feel compelled to be associated with the game as a coach or a commentator, let alone get into the business of playing exhibition matches.
"I was lucky I was prepared for retirement. I was ready to move on," says Waugh on the sidelines the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. Waugh, a Laureus Academy Member, adds: "I needed a break after 20 years at the top. I wanted to pursue other options. Philanthropy is a passion of mine and I spent a lot of time every week on that in Australia and India as well.
"I've had some business things (to fall back on), some charity and my family since retirement. I left everything on the ground (when I quit). I also was a part of the Laureus World Academy and Laureus World of Sport for Good foundation projects all around the world, and I have three kids who I wanted to see how they develop.
"When I walked away, I was quite satisfied. It's hard when you haven't fulfilled your potential or you've had an injury cut short your career, then you want to come back. I think as a sportsperson I still love cricket, but the reason I'm not so involved is that I'm so competitive that I'd want to keep playing. I needed to quit cold turkey and go do something else. I figured when you have played your best cricket competitively, why play in exhibition games when they're not gong to be the same standard? To me it doesn't suit to be rather comfortable."
Waugh though admits he's done a lot of behind-the-scenes mentoring of cricketers, including India's Rahul Dravid (albeit during Waugh's playing days).
"I have done a lot of mentoring for cricketers, someone like Mitchell Marsh before last season. A lot of people don’t know about it, but I spent a lot of time with cricketers.
"There's lots of cricketers I have mentored. David Warner, Michael Clarke, even international players from other teams. Lots of cricketers have had one on ones with me when things haven't gone well in their career," he says before adding, "The first one I really mentored was Dravid during an Indian tour many, many years ago. He was trying to get into the one-day side and we had a couple of meetings. He asked me how he could break into the one-day side and what he could differently. So, that was my first one many years ago. We've become good friends since."
Quiz him what he told Dravid, and with a twinkle in his eye he says, "You have to ask him. I can't remember. It was one of my first tours to India, so he was just in the side but not in the one-day team. (It was) A long time ago."
Waugh also reveals that he's had mentoring stints with football teams back home besides helping Australian squads at two Olympics.
"I was involved as a mentor for the Australian Olympic team in Beijing and London. It was a great experience mentoring the Australian squad for the Olympics. I've mentored a couple of Australian soccer teams as well. I was an athlete liaison officer for the Australian squad at Beijing and London Olympics, so I was part of the 400 members of the team and I had some 10 designated sports leading up to the Olympics.
"As part of my role, I spent time with players at training sessions, got to know them. Basically, I was just observing the teams and seeing if I needed to get involved as a mentor or talk to the athletes or whatever the team wanted me to do. Then during the Olympics, I went to the Olympic village in support of the team. It was probably the most enjoyable role I've ever had. If I had taken up cricket commentary or coaching, I wouldn't have had those opportunities. So, I definitely don't regret not taking up commentary or coaching."
But it seems the lure of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is something he even cannot resist.
"I'm sure down the track, there will be opportunities. But I haven’t got any offer to be a mentor for IPL team as yet so that seems like a good job. So may be down the road, yes (I could do that)."
The author is in Monaco at the invitation of Laureus
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