Mianne Bagger is a professional golfer from Denmark and Australia who competed on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and Australian ALPG tour for 11 years.
Mianne moved to Australia with her family in 1979 and turned professional in 2003. She currently has no permanent address, but as you will find out in the below interview, is a keen traveller at heart and home is anywhere where she feels happiest!
What led you to make the decision to retire?
It’s interesting that this question is stated this way, as if retiring is always a conscious decision. But it’s also the way most people ask the question of me personally.
For me, as I’m sure it is for many athletes, it wasn’t so much a conscious “decision”, but one of having to address the inevitable. This can be for various reasons including injury or other external factors. For me it was the fact that I was no longer competitive enough on tour and basically not earning enough money to justify continuing.
With my last few years on tour, I was one of the lucky few that was receiving help and sponsorship to cover travel expenses, but my poor results, missing ‘cuts’ and not making any money were wearing away at me personally. While I’m generally quite a resilient individual and happy to persist through occasional downturns in performance, after a couple of years of persistence and not seeing the results I needed, I had to make the decision to stop touring. I had pretty much everything I needed, including coaches both in Denmark and Australia that were wholly engaged in me making headway, but I wasn’t able to follow through.
Ironically enough (in my case), I wasn’t hitting the ball far enough and wasn’t able to make the shots that I needed to enable low scoring. Of course there’s probably an aspect of ageing related to this, but with a body in complete hormonal deprivation, it was a losing battle.
What skills did you learn from your sport that have transferred to your post-sporting career and how have they influenced the transition into life after sport?
On this front, it’s important to mention that even after some 2-and-a-half years post-tour life, I don’t have a ‘post-sporting career’. Far from it in fact. I am still searching, learning and exposing myself to new experiences. The traits I have learned from my touring career are manyfold: persistence, work ethic, mental focus and fortitude, developing a “can do” attitude, managing challenges, business and personal relations, greater understanding of aspects related to health, fitness & importance of good nutrition, the joy of life and the world around us, experiences of cultural diversity around the world, advocacy work and extensive media experience.
I will never forget the fact that I have lived a privileged life being able to tour as a professional golfer. Ultimately I view my life as a success. While all of these experiences have helped me grow as a person, I have found it difficult to mould with [what is typically called] “everyday life”. Many of the people I encounter don’t have the same approach to life and work as what I experienced in the sporting world. There isn’t the same drive or passion in what most people do day-to-day and it is a way of living that I find difficult to relate to.
What has worked best for you during your retirement and what's had the biggest positive effect on your life? And what have you found most difficult about retirement?
There is no doubt that my family has hands-down had the most positive effect on my life after sport! My family have always supported my sometimes tumultuous life with regard to the media exposure I attracted when I first started touring. In the initial period after retiring from sport, they provided grounding, support and most importantly a home when I needed it most. They provided the means for me to get me back on my feet again amid their own personal lives.
The most difficult part for me in retirement is finding a new direction that inspires me as much as tour golf. It is often frustrating to not have something that I can direct all of my energy into. I’m sure all sports people experience this! When you have a lot of drive and motivation it can sometimes be a little overwhelming for some people and as a sports person, it appears you tend to have more energy and drive than a lot of others around you.
After so many years of living an active life and working hard to stay at the top of your game, it’s not something you just ‘switch off’ and then go and sit quietly at an office desk. It is who we are and it is what we do. Well, it is for me anyway. What has worked best for me is to engage in a journey of exploration to learn new things and embrace a life of discovery, to maybe re-invent myself in a sense. Maybe such a step takes a greater leap of faith, but it’s ultimately what has saved me.
I am still on that journey today and while I’m still learning, gradually pieces are starting to fall into place.
At what stage during their sporting career do you think athletes should start preparing for life after sport? Do you think it is possible to build an identity outside of sport whilst you're still playing? If so, how?
This is a question I find difficult to answer given my own personal experiences. The short answer is that yes, of course, they are all possible, but not necessarily for every person. There are so many factors that play a role.
Much of it I think depends on what resources we have available. When you have a home base in Australia for example and you spend most of your time overseas (often only in one place for a week or two at a time), it is difficult to engage in any other long-term pursuit. The focus is, of course, our sport which includes training/practice, fitness, competing, and travelling. Not to mention time-out and relaxing.
It would seem that the preparation for life after sport would need to happen before life-in-sport. If you have a university degree, for example, it is an area that a person is better prepared to merge into (if it is something they still have an interest in of course – which isn’t always a given). This kind of preparation can be difficult to plan, though, because the other side of the coin is the (sometimes) fickle world of sport. When opportunities present themselves that can propel you towards where you want to be, they often need to be grabbed while they’re available. This could be at the expense of the preparation for life after sport. The desire to achieve in our given sport can usually, and easily, take priority.
At the end of that sporting career, if we have a clear intention or vision of how our career might continue it would certainly make it easier, but when you have no vision or no plan, that is when sports people end up at a loss of what to do and in which direction to go. I have seen it happen with so many of my friends and colleagues from tour life. There are many that get work at golf clubs, often teaching or getting involved with golf academies, but these opportunities don’t present themselves for everyone.
What are you doing now and what sort of athletes do you think would be suited to your role or industry?
So in my search for new direction in life, I have tried a number of different things that have led me to where I am now.
The first was moving to a town on the Costa Blanca in Spain to do some teaching at a golf club. While I love the country, the culture and the environment, I found that teaching golf wasn’t for me. The teaching also wasn’t lucrative enough for me (mostly because I wasn’t good enough at promoting myself) and after returning to Australia I made efforts at pursuing my own web development business (I have some 3 decades of experience in tech and IT).
Ultimately though, I wasn’t able to get that working either and I was still feeling restless.
I came to the realisation that I love travelling and needed to be exposed to new experiences and people. I needed to keep moving. As I have no possessions or home, I was able to pick up and travel in whichever direction I desired. The previous 11 years on tour provided exposure to travel and the confidence to find my way around new environments.
Mind you, maybe my childhood helped prepare me for a life of travel after our family moved countries a few times due mostly to my dad’s work.
They may not realise this, but I am grateful to my parents for this upbringing and the preparation it may have provided both me and my sister for exploring broader aspects of life. What ultimately worked for me in post-retirement was finding opportunities for volunteering, working in exchange for accommodation, and doing occasional paid work in hospitality while travelling.
I found the experience of working without stress and being able to ‘turn-off’ at the end of the day quite refreshing. It enabled me to be in my own space and thoughts, earn a bit of money along the way and, as mentioned before, be exposed to the new people and experiences that I was seeking.
Today I continue to live this way. Travelling, working and volunteering, and am back to loving life and the experiences I’m having. Funnily enough, I’ve ended up doing some web development during my travels and I love that I get to pick the clients I do work for. There is however still no clear direction in life which is an unfamiliar feeling for me. But I’m ok with that (for now). I’m in a happier place at least and that always makes the journey forward a little easier.
On reflection, what have you learned, or do you have any observations to share with regard to the life of an athlete/sports-person, and subsequently, life after sport?
At the outset, I think it is important to realise that we need to acknowledge the passing of a career. Not just a job, but something we are so passionate about that we have dedicated so much of our lives to. All of a sudden it’s over and that doesn’t just happen overnight. I also don’t think this is necessarily the sole domain of sport or sports people either. It is for any pursuit in life that anyone has dedicated much of themselves and their lives to achieving and perfecting. Give it, and ourselves, the time that is needed. I guess it’s akin to a grieving process.
I personally don’t think there is much we can do to ease the ‘pain’ of ending a sporting career, or shorten the process. I know some girls from tour life for example who did move into new careers after touring, but they either still had to endure a grieving process or some continue to play occasional tournaments. An important aspect to be aware of is that the experience is not unique to us alone and in fact, it is so much more common than most of us realise.
Athletes should allow time for the grief and the healing process. Allow the feelings of depression and loss to go their natural course, but absolutely do find someone to talk to. Don’t go through this journey alone. Find a counsellor of some kind. We are not just moving from one ‘job’ to the next. We’ve ended a career, income, a somewhat privileged lifestyle and living something we are so passionate about, friends, coaches, mentors, and more.
I realised early on that it was important for me to find someone to talk to. I needed someone I could express my thoughts, questions, concerns and experiences to. I had to jump through a few hoops to make this happen as I didn’t have the money to merely pay for a counsellor or psychologist. As I was on Centrelink payments, there was an opportunity to take advantage of some counselling sessions. When I was going through the ‘vetting’ process, a doctor flippantly commented that in her opinions, I was merely, “…having a midlife crisis”! She had asked no personal questions of me and had no knowledge of my life, before coming to this conclusion. I had never before felt so flawed or dismissed. I was speechless.
Make sure you talk with someone that understands the issues of sports people in life after sport. Allow the time for healing and know that it is a process. But do know that life will eventually be ok, although it may take a little while.