PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash Despite what many may think, the lifestyle of an athlete is not as flashy as one may imagine. Many of them — even those on the elite level — struggle behind the scenes, especially with their finances. A survey of 500 elite-level athletes from multiple countries found that 58% of them did not feel financially stable. A lack of support from the organizations sending them to events, difficulty getting a job outside the sport, and challenges obtaining big sponsorships can contribute to athletes’ financial woes. While the implementation of new NIL policies allows non-pro athletes — such as those in the collegiate and even high school divisions — to earn more money, there’s no specific way of knowing exactly how much they’ll be able to earn from it and until when. In these unpredictable times, financial management is vital for athletes, as cash flow isn’t steady and can change or stop abruptly.
The financial problems of athletes
Many athletes underestimate the need to monitor their finances and invest wisely. Still, these things are crucial, especially since the way athletes earn money is different from those working regular 9-5 jobs. It depends on the sport and the position you play in, but many athletes hit their peak in their youth, and that’s when most of their income comes in. They earn a lot in their mid-twenties up to their early thirties, then experience a sharp drop once they reach their mid-thirties or forties. Sponsorships are a good way to bring in money and improve an athlete’s brand, but scoring deals with big names are hard to come by and reserved for a very elite few. Some athletes also tend to put a false sense of security in their earnings, and without a plan to fall back on, they can easily find themselves in debt. Income itself is volatile; salaries are often not guaranteed and can stop once an athlete’s performance declines or they get injured. Losing money and even bankruptcy is common for those in retirement. To avoid getting into that situation, you’ll need to wise up and take your finances seriously well before then.
"ignoring the problems you’re facing now so you can keep your head in the game may lead to more problems in the future."
How athletes can manage money better
You may be worried about your financial situation looking bleak, but it’s never too late to protect and grow the wealth you earned as an athlete. The North American sports market is expected to reach a value of $83.1 billion by 2023, and the field of sports finance is available to support the financial success of teams and athletes alike. Case in point: sports agents can help negotiate contracts or endorsement deals, sign bonuses, and even assist with financial planning. Sports finance experts can help athletes examine their finances and help them plan for the long term so that in the event of a blow to their income stream, they can still support themselves through it. If you’re still actively working as an athlete, don’t wait until you’re nearing retirement to start managing your income. In your prime, you can set up your own financial plan. A financial plan can help you by setting explicit goals and creating budgets to help you meet those goals, so these are integral to keeping you on track. Want to retire by age 30? Want to keep playing until 40? You need to know how much you will spend, save, or invest to get you there. Keep the goals realistic and attainable, so you can adjust them as needed. You can also pursue other endeavors within the athletic field to help support yourself economically.
Football player Joe Martin started his training company, Preach It and Prove It, to help others build mental and physical strength for anything that comes their way. It allowed him to continue his athletic career and earn money without having to be tied to a 9-to-5 job. Despite the various financial challenges athletes face, there are many opportunities within the industry that you can consider, given your skills and passions, when trying to create a sustainable cash flow for yourself.
Don’t treat financial issues with a no pain no gain mindset; ignoring the problems you’re facing now so you can keep your head in the game may lead to more problems in the future. Tackling money as an athlete can be tricky, but with the right goal and adequate guidance, you can be in your best condition — physically, mentally, and financially. ===== Author bio: Susan Jody Willis is a freelance writer and blogger focused on financial matters and advice. She mainly writes about money-making and management in the sports industry. Susan enjoys running marathons and watching movies with her family in her free time.