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March 29, 2011 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

The 7th Inning Stretch – When do you give it up?

In our lifetimes we all move on from jobs or careers as we search for more financial security, our dreams evolve, or even as we are made redundant or obsolescent. It is something that will occur on average 7-10 times in our lives. But something we aren’t usually faced with is inevitable retirement from something we love, until of course we reach 65, but honestly most of us will be in underpaid jobs that we hate anyway. However, this is something that nearly every sportsperson will have to deal with in his or her career. For some it is a simple decision, for others it proves mightily difficult. Some make the decision at the height of their greatness, others fade into obscurity. When then is the best time to retire? And who made the right or wrong calls? Because this is something that can define your career as much as all the great feats you achieved during it.

A man who is about to retire in maybe the form of his life, but at least at the top of his game, is 40 year old Manchester United goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar. At the end of this season he will end a career spanning over 20 years in top-flight club football. Most would think footballers were past it by this age, and most are, but van der Sar will be sorely missed by his Manchester club. He was the star of the show a couple of weekends ago in the FA Cup quarter-finals against Arsenal, when he nearly single-handedly kept his team in the game with a number of cool and classy saves. Some would describe them as miraculous, but that would imply some greater force at work, which would not pay due respect to this Dutch Giant.

It is clear that van der Sar will leave the game with the respect of his team and supporters. He is under no pressure to retire by either of these two parties and would be good enough to carry on but he has decided that it is time to respectively bow out of the game. But should he retire when he is such a good player? The fans obviously don’t think so as they chanted “one more year” to him at their last League match. Stephen Fleming was a New Zealand cricketer who retired under similar circumstances to Edwin van der Sar when he was arguably still New Zealand’s best batsman. This was a huge disappointment for New Zealand cricket and for many months afterwards people were calling for him to return to the Black Caps outfit. Of course no one can resent the decisions that such great players make, especially when they have given so much to the sport. But do players have a responsibility, or do they at least owe it to themselves to carry on for as long as they are successful?

Sometimes I feel as if they should, but there is another side to this precariously perched coin. Some sportspeople carry on until they have disgraced or embarrassed themselves within their particular field. A good example of this is the infamous rugby league player and now boxer – John Hopoate. He led a successful but controversial career. He was once known for putting his finger up mean’s arses during games; he played international and State of Origin League; and finally finished his career after being banned for 17 weeks after a shoulder charge on an opposition player that meant he got dropped by his club and so he retired. A former great, disgraced by the fact that he didn’t really end things on his own terms and becoming the most banned player in the modern era.

There is definitely a fine line between retiring when you are still respected but at the top of your game and taking it too far that you end up the enemy rather than a hero. Of course it is important that sportspeople retire before they are absolutely past it, but we are always going to want to see quality players for as long as possible. This dilemma is something I am sure that NZ boxer David Tua is either pondering or will have to very soon. He is 38, clearly past his prime and there is very little chance that he will ever get a world title fight again. But unfortunately for him, even if he did want to retire, his financial situation is one that means this is impossible, for now anyway. At least these sportspeople have a taste of some of the same worries as us who are not so athletically gifted. But still, 38 years old is hardly 65.


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  1. Boss says:

    Gosh, I wish I would have had that inofrmtaoin earlier!

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