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Transitioning into the world of work: Why athletes need career support
Sport is the lifeblood of Australian culture. Thousands of sportspeople of all backgrounds represent us in rugby, cricket, netball, swimming, tennis – pretty much any sport under the sun. But most athletes experience their athletic prime in their younger years compared to those of us in non-sporting careers.
While highly successful athletes who become household names can carve out long careers after sport, those without the same brand equity don’t have the same doors open to them. So what happens when they retire or forced to retire remains a significant issue across all sporting communities.
Therefore taking care of our athletes from a post-professional sporting career and wellness perspective is crucial but remains a challenge: What does ‘work’ and ‘career’ look like for athletes outside of sport? Are there any resources they can access to help with the transition and change?
The Australian Institute of Sport established the Elite Athlete Friendly University network to identify and promote universities that assist elite student athletes to undertake sporting opportunities, while pursuing and achieving academic excellence. There are 41 universities involved.
Michael Page recently solidified its partnership with Australian netball team West Coast Fever to assist its athletes with career training, consisting of personal branding, CV writing, interview skills and appointments to prepare for life after netball.
Pete Fairbairn, Communications and Commercial Manager at RUPA says when it comes to preparing athletes for their transition into the workforce, avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” approach is key in order to ensure each individual is ready to be successful.
Committing to this personalised, case-by-case approach is a challenge in itself, he says.
Key challenges faced by athletes
Simon Taylor, Managing director for Perth netball team West Coast Fever, says professional athletes have incredibly busy schedules, both on-field and off-field, so it’s often hard for them to think about what their lives look like once their careers finish.
“As a club, we take great pride in ensuring we not only develop our athletes as netballers but also as people. It’s imperative clubs provide their athletes the time to think about their future after their sporting careers end,” Taylor says.
“Netball has been a wonderful leader and advocate of education for its athletes throughout their careers, so fortunately we haven’t had many cases of players retiring due to injury.”
He notes only in recent years has netball been able to afford its athletes a salary they can solely live off: “For a number of years, players had to work in their respective fields or conducted further studies.”
Initial steps in the right direction
Under the Australian Cricketers’ Association’s (ACA) policy, all contracted players are required to complete an annual career development assessment with their Player Development Manager (PDM), who helps guide their career action plan for the coming year.
The assessment looks at five areas for development: self-awareness, industry exploration, learning (education), work experience and networking.
Players are encouraged to focus on developing one or more of these areas each season to build confidence in making realistic and insightful decisions in planning their next career.
“Many more players are leaving the game prepared for the next phase of their life,” ACA says.
“Transition is difficult, even if you have a fulfilling job to go to, so it is one less thing to worry about knowing you have a plan. Those that struggle to find employment beyond cricket tend to experience a more difficult transition.”
The ACA says it’s seen a mix of engagement with life after sports.
“We have a strong academic-inclined group who will pursue education and are always thinking of careers outside of cricket, a group in the middle who we may need to gently encourage to broaden their thinking, and then those who would prefer to focus solely on their sporting career,” the association body reveals.
“Athletic identity is at its strongest between the age of 18 and 23 years, so often we see players start to consider career development as they hit the age 23 and 24 years. However, players are starting to understand the impact that having perspective away from the game can have on performance, so we are seeing a shift into thinking about their development holistically.”
A foot in the door
One way athletes can test the water is by jumping right in. While West Coast Fever player Olivia Lewis balances her sporting commitments with university, she also found short term work through Michael Page in office support as a receptionist during the end of last year, running through to the start of 2019.
Lewis recalls: “The role involved general office administration work along with answering the phones and looking after candidates coming in for interviews. It was different being in an office environment but there was always something to do which kept me on my toes and busy the whole time – I wasn’t glued to my chair for long periods of time, which I was very happy about.”
She was also thrilled to discover new skills.
“I found I’m quite good at multi-tasking, so this was particularly helpful with answering the phones. As an athlete, I also take on feedback quite well, which transferred into learning on the job and made the whole experience a lot easier,” she shares.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to get involved in a role that was different to anything I’ve done before. It’s given me some great experience working with people in a more corporate setting, and I’ve gained a lot of skills I know will transfer into any future workplace.”