After years of performing at the very highest level in the sport of their choice, you would completely understand if major stars who have enjoyed incredible success chose to spend their retirement relaxing on a beach somewhere, reflecting on their achievements and counting their hard-earned cash.

Reaching the top of the sporting world takes an incredible amount of hard work in both a physical and mental sense, so a bit of time to unwind would undoubtedly be welcome. However, what happens when after a year or two they start to get the itch to be competitive again?

It is a simple fact for a number of sports stars that the thrill and excitement of competition never leaves them and many find themselves drawn to seeking new challenges and chasing the same sense of achievement they have enjoyed in the past. Intriguingly, one game which continues to attract ex-professionals again and again is poker.

A real big-hitter

At the start of June, it was revealed how former MLB star and two-time World Series champion Jose Canseco was in attendance at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Big 50 event. While the six-time All-Star is not thought to have secured any money at the tournament, it is in fact just the latest in a number of poker-related competitions he has entered.

According to, Canseco has managed to achieve earnings of more than $10,000 from his time playing poker, with the website suggesting his best finish was 3rd spot in a $125 No Limit Hold’em Evening Event at The Venetian in Las Vegas back in March 2015.

Interestingly, his involvement in such events makes him just the latest in a long line of big names from the world of sport to fully embrace the joys of poker.

Major names

Competitors from a host of different fields have tried their hand at poker through the years. For example, when it comes to soccer, both of the famous Ronaldos have really taken to the game.

The Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has spoken of his love of poker in recent years and it may not be a huge surprise to see him appear at major events when he finally chooses to hang up his boots and retire from the beautiful game. The legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo has taken part in – and secured winnings – at events in the past too.

Former tennis world number one Boris Becker has also enjoyed a fruitful career in poker in the last decade or so and is thought to have secured more than $100,000 in winnings, including around $40,000 at a World Poker Tour event back in April 2009. Poker has even managed to attract one of the greatest Olympians of all-time, as retired swimming star Michael Phelps has embraced the game and made an appearance at a WSOP event in Las Vegas last year.

But just what is it about poker that specifically attracts individuals who have dominated sports to head to the table?

The right mindset

It is difficult to pinpoint the fundamental reasons why some people embrace the game, but one element which could be intriguing to former sports stars is how poker requires a significant level of mental endurance.

As poker coach Jared Tendler outlines on, having stamina and the ability to focus for a length of time can be incredibly useful in a poker tournament as it can allow you to both play longer and at a high level. Furthermore, he explains how endurance will ultimately boost a player’s mindset and help them perform to a good standard in any high-pressure situation, whether they are playing stud poker, Texas Hold ’em or another other variation of the game.

While many of us ordinary human beings would need help and support to increase mental endurance, sports stars are in the fortunate position of having the right mindset already. After all, they have spent years of their lives honing themselves psychologically to ensure they can perform on the biggest stages that their sports have to offer. With this in mind, it could be argued that poker gives them a chance to once again reconnect with the mentality and competitive focus they once used to great effect in their chosen field.

Reaching the top

However, while this may be the case, will we ever get to the point where a former sports star is challenging at the very top of the poker world?

Considering everything that the likes of Canseco or Phelps have achieved in their sports careers, the chances are they would be well on their way to having the right tools to succeed in poker. However, there are other factors that come into play and could impact on them really reaching new heights in the game.

Arguably the most important issue is the question of motivation. After spending the majority of their lives dedicated to a sport and pushing themselves to the limit in order to achieve huge success, you have to wonder whether retired sports stars really want to try and become the best in another field. Add in the fact that they are already very wealthy and it is worth considering if they may have the desire that is ultimately required.

Keep coming back for more

Despite that, it does remain absolutely fascinating to see how poker has become a major draw to retired sports stars seeking thrills and excitement after years of success. From baseball stars to swimming and soccer legends, the game has a quality that keeps people coming back time and time again.

While the jury is out on whether we will ever see a former professional become one of the absolute top poker players in the world, we are sure that the game will continue to attract retired stars from a host of different arenas for many years to come.

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