Athlete Futures Network Newsletter - March 2018
My Athlete to Coach Journey
By Deanna Coates
I was born with spina bifida in the 1950s when not much was known about disabilities, especially mine. I was christened and not expected to live, yet here I am over 60 years later. How time flies...
I didn't do much sport until leaving school at the age of 16. Attending a mainstream school, it was thought I would be a danger to myself and other children if I took part in sporting activities. But after starting work for a company called Marconi, I became friends with a retired synchronised swimmer who volunteered at local sports clubs, including one for disabled individuals called Rushmoor Mallards. She kept on at me to go along until eventually, I did... and I’ve not looked back since! The club was multi-sport, so I tried everything from swimming to bowls to table tennis, with shooting being the last thing I wanted to do, as having three brothers who used to mess about with toy guns as kids had frightened me silly. However, the person in charge of shooting was very persuasive and said I had a natural eye and aptitude for the sport.
I was entered into club competitions, moving on to county level and then entered into the National Wheelchair Games at Stoke Mandeville, where I won. My first international competition was the Paralympic Games, also at Stoke Mandeville, in 1984, which was only for paraplegics. Back then, disabilities were separated unlike now where the Paralympic Games encompasses all. I have since competed in another seven Paralympics and have eight medals to my name: three golds, three silvers and two bronze. The last Games I participated in was London 2012, which was fantastic, although I didn't medal which was a huge disappointment to me and didn't know where to go from there. I competed in one more international competition following London, but my heart really wasn’t in it anymore; I strongly believe we all know when the time is right to end our journey as an athlete, and the time had come for me. I started helping out at Stoke Mandeville with the Talent Group, Spinal Games and Junior Games to try and pass on my skills.
I’ve helped out at my local shooting club in Bisley, Surrey for over 10 years now, which is where I did most of my training, spending many an hour on my own “in the zone”. Whilst I worked there, I decided to complete some club coaching courses, then in March 2016 I was offered the chance to join UK Sport’s Athlete to Coach programme, which takes a year to complete. I took this opportunity apprehensively, as I’m not very comfortable in a classroom environment having had bad experiences with my earlier schooling.
Although I’ve enjoyed my athlete to coach journey and have learnt an awful lot, I’ve struggled with parts of it and it’s been a challenge. A lot of what I’ve learnt has only come after a lot of reflection, after taking time away to think about things, such as my behaviour, its impact on others, and how to go forward into the future. In the past, I’ve often put myself down and looked at things in a negative way. For example, when I received feedback before starting the course, I saw it as a put down but I’ve learned that this isn’t the case, mainly from my coach educator. I’ve also discovered that we all learn in different ways; some people are more visual, some more verbal. Through taking part in the programme, I’ve learnt that there should be boundaries between athlete and coach, which need to be set early on to enable a good working relationship to be established. This helps you to know when to banter and when to buckle down!
I’ve had a long journey as an athlete, and enjoyed almost every minute of it. As I now embark on my coaching career, I’m immensely looking forward to seeing my athletes grow as I have. I now see every day as a new opportunity.
Finding a Love for Coaching
Interview with Matt Lawrence, conducted and edited by Jess Pether
UK Sport’s annual World Class Performance Conference is always a great place to meet a host of interesting people and in 2017, we were especially looking forward to attending as part of the Athlete Futures Network. We knew we’d be meeting lots of Network members at our transition event and we’d also set up an athlete interview with Matthew Lawrence, a former canoeist turned coach. You can read all about his athlete to coach journey below, in his own words.
I started canoeing age eight but there was never any thought about taking it to a professional level until I met my first few coaches. I started training more, had a growth spurt and was suddenly making national teams. I ended up being a member of the British team from age 16 to 27, when I retired.
I was never strong academically which led me to worry about what I’d do after sport. I’d completed an engineering apprenticeship but with every year that passed, I was further away from it and things change very quickly in engineering. Not having a degree to fall back on was always a concern of mine so whilst training, I decided to get into property development. I secured investment by writing a very basic business plan (I actually bought A Dummies Guide to Property Development to read during training camps!) and bought a couple of student houses. Until this time, I’d felt a lot of worry and stress because it’s easy to focus on your own little athlete bubble. Doing something to future-proof myself felt really important and I actually think you learn things working in the “real world” that can also help your athletic career. As an athlete, I would really struggle if canoeing wasn’t going well; it could sometimes feel like the whole world was ending, so I knew I needed something else to focus on and that’s what property development gave me. I remember feeling relieved I’d found another thing that meant something to me. It gave me security and it felt good to be something other than a canoeist.
When the time came for me to retire, I thought my career path was set. I didn’t want to go into coaching because I’d been in the sport from such a young age, I thought I could end up there for the rest of my life. I was defined by canoeing and wanted to try something new. I also didn’t want to end up despising my sport. As an athlete, I didn’t have the fairy tale ending I’d hoped for because a selection decision meant I didn’t make it to the Games. Although I understood and agreed with the decision, it obviously wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
But quite accidently, I started coaching a bit on the side. There was no national coach based in Nottingham, even though it was the main place for training, and before I knew it, I had a group of eight athletes, some of whom were on national teams! Although I started to enjoy it, it still wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
I was approached by a local teacher who had a group of PE A Level students and as part of their course, they had to take up a second sport. I ran a two-day canoeing course which seemed to tick all the boxes and suddenly ended up in real demand. At the start of the two days, many kids couldn’t paddle and some had never even been in a boat. By the end, you could see a massive improvement, which I loved.
I decided then that I wanted to get some coaching qualifications. Nottingham County Council ran a coaching awards scholarship with Sports Coach UK (now UK Coaching), which I successfully got onto and was really useful. It opened up a great network for me as they have links with Notts rugby, cricket at Trent Bridge and Nottingham Forest FC. I wanted to spend time learning my trade before securing a job, but when a role came up at British Canoeing for a paracanoe coach, I thought I’d apply just for the experience. Amazingly, I got the job! Two and a half years later, I found myself standing on the banks of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio watching two athletes I’d been working with win medals.
Although I’ve worked hard to be a good coach, I think luck has played a small part in getting me where I am today. I went into a sport that was new to the Games, with new athletes, and was also given the chance to join UK Sport’s Athlete to Coach programme. When I first transitioned, I knew I didn’t have any of the soft skills required, but Athlete to Coach helped me with that. It allowed me to meet people in a similar position which really helped me develop my skills. With the Athlete to Coach programme and university scholarship both feeding into my development, I was able to up-skill quickly.
I completed Athlete to Coach two years ago and I’m now on the Generation 2024 programme, which is part of the Para Coach2Tokyo initiative. This programme has more freedom to it and you really get out what you put in. I can’t stress enough how important these programmes are for building up a network, meeting other ex-athletes and also mentors. British Canoeing works closely with UK Sport too, so it all aligns which is important. It feels like the quality of coaching in the UK is on the way up, which is really positive.
One of the biggest things I learnt from Athlete to Coach was how to question my style and the way I worked. I was quite a one-dimensional coach when I first started, very dictatorial, and there wasn’t a lot of focus on making sure the athlete was learning. Athlete to Coach taught me about myself and helped me develop my own philosophy. You have to be aware it’s no longer about you but the athlete. You also learn that being a coach can sometimes be a bit of an emotional roller coaster! It’s an amazing buzz watching your athletes competing but at the end of each day, you realise how tired you are because of the highs and lows you experience.
As a coach, I do draw on my own athlete experiences but there are strengths and weaknesses to this approach. I’m always aware of how I used to feel so try and empathise, but in the same breath, no two people are the same so I don’t ever want to assume that someone feels the same as I would have done. As an athlete, I competed in canoe and this is what I originally coached. But now I coach athletes in kayak and I actually find it easier this way. Coaching canoe, I would teach from a “feel” perspective, but now I know I’m delivering a whole picture and I don’t get stuck in the feeling.
I think it’s important for athletes to consider what they’re going to do after sport early on in their careers. Things like the EIS Performance Lifestyle Advisors and the Athlete Futures Network are really important, and if you have access to these, you really must utilise them. You come out of sport having learnt a lot, but there’s nothing to officially recognise this; you’ll have numerous transferable skills, such as communication and teamwork, but you may struggle to make prospective employers see how these can work for them.
The journey I’ve been on so far has been incredible. I want to continue to improve as a coach and I’d like to undertake more coaching development at a later date. I’m currently tutoring within the sport, so who knows what my future holds, but I would definitely like to continue going to the Games and winning medals. I absolutely miss competing and I’d compete at anything; board games, swimming… in the pool, I can’t count the amount of people I race who don’t even know I’m racing them! You never lose that competitive spirit.
Becoming an Athlete Support Officer
By Rachel Smith
When do we really sit and consider what is going to happen with our future? And by that I mean really write down everything we enjoy, places we’d like to live, or something that is going to fulfil us for at least the immediate future? For me, this wasn’t something that even crossed my mind whilst training for London 2012.
My rhythmic gymnastics career all started when I was six years old. I was at school and could see children running around with ribbons; I immediately decided that was what I wanted to do. I mean, who doesn’t want to run around with a ribbon?! My parents agreed to let me join the rhythmic gymnastics club ran by Joanne Haywood (Corrigan) who sent me off to my local club, City of Coventry Rhythmic Gymnastics Club. I began training more and more; apparently I was talented! (Personally, I just liked the ribbons…)
I was selected to represent GB at my first international in Russia at the age of nine. I was terrified, and a Russian gymnast stole my hair brush, but all in all it was the real start of my career as an elite rhythmic gymnast. Like most athletes, my training increased, which for me was under the supervision of Marion Sands who I have a lot to thank for. I competed as an individual at Senior Europeans, but unfortunately gained a stress fracture on one of my vertebrae, meaning my chance to compete at my one and only Senior Worlds in Japan was swept away from me in a heartbeat. I was told “You’re never going to compete again”, which was the same thing the doctors told me when I contracted a severe case of glandular fever, hospitalising me for weeks.
But I was never going to give up that easily, and to this day, I have to thank my family, friends and many others for supporting me, even though many wanted me to stop. At the age of 17, I moved to Bath to train full-time with several other brave girls, my “Wolf Pack”. We trained eight hours a day, six days a week for a year and a half in order to qualify as the first team to represent GB at an Olympic Games. We had many bumps along the way; we didn’t expect to have to take our case to the court of arbitration for sport; we didn’t expect to be training for an Olympics we didn’t think we were going to compete at; we didn’t expect to win our court case… but we did. At the age of 19, I represented my country at the London 2012 Olympic Games in front of a home crowd, in front of my incredible parents, in front of the nation and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Being a self-funded athlete, my dream of continuing after the Olympics was near impossible; my own and others’ parents had invested over £10,000 each in one year of training for us. So with the help of the Team Bath Lifestyle Advisor, Alison Smith, I decided to stay at the University of Bath and study a BSc in Sports Performance. At the beginning, university was great. Everyone was so interested in the Olympics and knowing who I was, and I wondered to myself what all the fuss was about around transitioning out of sport. I felt great! Then my second year came around, and no-one seemed to care about the Olympics anymore. I kept calling myself a gymnast, which I clearly wasn’t anymore, and that was the hardest thing I had to deal with; not being this important person in the world anymore, not in the way I had always been.
I sought support through a counselling service, and with that support started to feel much better about myself. It was then that I decided I didn’t want others to feel like I had done. I decided to train as a lifestyle advisor in my final year of university through the Talented Athlete Lifestyle Support (TALS) course and began my journey to support others. I attended an EIS Skills4Performance Performance Lifestyle week and was lucky to be offered a job at the University of Bath as the Athlete Support Officer. Now I get to work with student-athletes every day, helping them to navigate and explore their way through their own careers, supporting them with decision-making, and ultimately making sure that when they graduate from university, they are well equipped and ready for the next stage in their journey.
I’m so grateful to be in the position I am today; I still have down days, where I realise I may never feel the same level of excitement as when I competed at the Olympic Games, and I struggle to come to terms with this. But my advice to anyone in the same position is that you just have to find what else you can do to give you purpose. For me, it’s supporting other elite athletes, and watching them flourish throughout their time here at the University of Bath. For you, it might be a completely different path. Just make sure every day to remember why you do what you do. Transitioning is not easy; it doesn’t matter how prepared you are. However, it can be exciting, a chance for you to re-invent yourself, to do something you’ve always wanted to do! Use the people around you, be inquisitive, and most of all, make sure whatever you do fulfils your values.
Mindtools offers great resources to help you explore yourself and your values, and most importantly, be yourself.
A Career Outside of Sport
By Jo Barton
In my previous life as an athlete, I was an international rower. I pursued my dreams of competing on the world stage for 12 years after taking part in my first Junior World Championships when I was 16. That meant training around my A-Levels, my degree and having a part-time admin job to support myself before I made the high performance team.
All of this meant that, when I retired from rowing aged 28 after the London Olympics I, like many other athletes, had never had a “proper” job. What I had done was made sure I obtained a good degree in psychology from Nottingham Uni, used my education grant to get a marketing qualification and taken any work experience opportunities that were offered to me as an athlete. The reason I’d chosen a marketing qualification was because I felt I could use some of the principles I’d learnt in my degree to my advantage in that field and I’ve always been interested in the really smart marketing campaigns that seem to persuade you to like a brand or buy a product without even realising it!
I kept being asked which part of marketing I wanted to work in but I wasn’t even 100% sure that marketing itself was the right path, let alone which specific area I wanted to work in. The obvious path seemed to be sports marketing due to my sporting background; I just knew I needed to start somewhere. I was determined to get a job through networking rather than applying for hundreds of roles through job adverts, as I felt that my skill set might be overlooked by doing it the latter way; I feared that all anyone would see is the “no previous proper job” part of my CV or applications. Also, to give my story some more context, I was not in a great place mentally at this point. I was struggling with adjusting from the routine of training with the squad two/three times a day to suddenly not actually needing to train at all and being on my own a lot of the time. I was also dealing with the emotions of feeling like I’d failed at my rowing career. I was in the women’s eight during the three years prior to the Olympics, which included winning a World Championship bronze medal in 2011, then ended up as a “spare” at the Olympics. I felt despair about the selection process, and wondered how I could now define myself and reintegrate back into society. My Lottery grant had come to an end so I’d started to feel the financial pressures of getting a job too.
Luckily, one of my old rowing teammates, who is a great friend of mine, had previously told me she would help me get a job at Sky when I finished rowing. So, as well as meeting with everyone and anyone I knew that was involved in sports marketing (I even posted about it on Facebook), I ended up ringing her in desperation asking if there were any jobs going. Fortunately, she got me an interview at a new brand of Sky’s called NOW TV, for the role of Customer Marketing Executive. NOW TV is a subscription service similar to Netflix, which offers the chance to watch Sky’s TV shows, movies and sports on the internet rather than via satellite.
The interview went well; I’d done some research on LinkedIn about the people on the interview panel so I knew that one of them used to row at Bristol Uni, which made me feel confident she would appreciate some of my transferable skills. I also made it clear that, even though I didn’t know much about marketing, I was a quick learner.
I’ve been incredibly lucky because I’ve really found my feet in marketing, specifically in working for a start-up, which is a part of one of the most successful companies in the world. Being part of Sky has meant I’ve had access to best-in-class marketing techniques and technology, as well as incredibly bright people who I love learning from. Having been in one of the best teams in the world in sport, this element is really important to me. On top of that, I’ve been a part of NOW TV since it was only six months old, so I’ve had lots of exposure to many different areas and have been able to make a significant impact, which I may not have been able to do if I was just a small cog in a big company. I also market TV shows, movies and sports so couldn’t ask for a more interesting area to work in.
My role of Customer Marketing Executive primarily involved sending marketing emails introducing new customers to the service, getting them to use it and helping them get as much from it as possible, so they stay with us for longer. I also helped promote new products and features and offered discounts.
Now I work as a Digital Marketing Manager trying to acquire new customers, as well as win back those that have left, primarily using Facebook, Instagram and display ads (the ones that follow you around the Internet!), as well as some email marketing. It’s great working in an area that is so relevant to our lives and ever evolving. I now also have two people who report to me and I love the people-management side of my job; it’s something that comes naturally to a lot of elite sportspeople, having had to get the most out of their previous sporting team. I’ve also managed to squeeze in having a son and have another baby on the way, which has its own challenges; motherhood in another experience which I feel my sporting background has prepared me for! I never thought I’d be so passionate about a completely different career but I really do love it and am determined to keep progressing.
I think most athletes are nervous about what life after sport holds. It may take a while but you will find other highs that can be just as incredible (and this is coming from someone who secretly used to “feel sorry” for people who weren’t athletes, who didn’t know how amazing it was to compete on the world stage). While you’re still an athlete, one of the best things you can do is take as many opportunities to gain qualifications, experience and networking as you can, obviously when it won’t affect your sporting performance. It’s likely you’ll have to start at the bottom of your next career, potentially being managed by people who don’t know how to get the most out of their team, so you’ll have to be patient and work your way up. I would also advise looking at the ethos of the company or team you’re joining; if they’re striving to be the best at what they do, it will be an environment you’re used to and you’ll find like-minded people and enjoy it more.
You will have gained so many skills as an athlete – dedication, teamwork, being analytical of performance - that you have the potential to fast track your second career; you’ll never know what you might end up being passionate about until you give it a go. But most of all, good luck; it’s exciting to find out where the next step will take you!
Tips for Attending an Athlete Futures Roadshow
Thinking of coming along to an Athlete Futures Roadshow event? Then check out our tips below, given to us by several of the employers who came to the November 2016 event and some “before, during and after” tips from some of our very own EIS Performance Lifestyle Advisors.
Philip Wood, Scholarship and Recruitment Manager, University of Nottingham Sport
- Athletes should compile a one page hand-out containing information about themselves and contact details, which they can give to employers they are interested in.
- Speak to all exhibitors, even if you don’t initially think you’d be interested in working for them, as you may not know what opportunities could exist.
Paul Palmer, Divisional Director, RKH Specialty
- Attend with an open mind. Finding out what makes you tick includes finding out what doesn't! Therefore, speak to as many potential employers as possible - it may turn out that an industry you knew nothing about is the one that best fits your skills.
- Industries will be keen to recruit, particularly as the Athlete Futures events gather momentum and gain greater recognition. Therefore we would advise responding to any follow-up contact or correspondence as it could be the stepping stone to your future career.
- Enjoy the day - it will be enlightening for you and will broaden your mind.
Robbie Simpson, Membership Director, Life After Professional Sport (LAPS)
- You can expect to see lots going on at these events so it is worth finding out who is in attendance before you get there. You can then make a point of going to the employers you are most interested in first.
Jo Harrison, Head of Performance Lifestyle, English Institute of Sport
BEFORE THE EVENT
- Ideally develop your CV with your PL Advisor in preparation for the event and have some printed copies to hand out. Basic business cards could also be a good idea to ensure people have your contact details. Working with your PL Advisor, you can start to identify the kinds of sectors you are most interested in and can therefore prioritise on the day – but keep an open mind.
- Think about the kinds of opportunities that would suit you both now and in the next 12 months; know what you are looking for. Are you looking for placements, work experience, or full time roles? Even practice introducing yourself (again, you can do this with some support from your PL) so that you’ll be confident on the day and able to maximise your opportunities.
DURING THE EVENT
- Talk to as many companies as possible – PL practitioners will be there on the day to support you if you aren’t sure of anything or feel awkward. Ensure you ask for people’s details/business cards so you can follow-up with the companies you’re interested in.
- Don’t be shy; the companies have attended so they can meet you – they will all be very keen to talk to you!
AFTER THE EVENT
- Debrief with your PL Advisor and ensure that you follow-up on all the things that you took an interest in. Hopefully the event will have given you lots of things to think about, so talking this through and developing your personal and professional development plans will be a hugely beneficial thing to do.
Mel Chowns, Senior Performance Lifestyle Advisor, English Institute of Sport
BEFORE THE EVENT
- Work with your PL Advisor to identify your key transferable skills and discuss how to articulate these to employers.
- Once you’ve identified potential companies to meet on the day, do some research about them ahead of the event. Get your LinkedIn account up to date so it looks sharp and relevant.
- Discuss with your PL Advisor about what to wear.
DURING THE EVENT
AFTER THE EVENT
- If you’re still in programme, go with an idea of what time commitment you have to give to any opportunities. You can then discuss possible flexible options with employers. Remember, it’s just as important to rule possible careers out as well as in, so don’t limit yourself.
- If you have spoken with a potential employer at the event, be sure to follow this up with an email, even if it’s just to say thank you for their time. Use your initiative and continue to network as you keep yourself in their minds.
Employing Elite Sportspeople
By Rob Best, Previous Head of Casualty P&C at Willis Towers Watson
How exceptionally well crafted is the modern CV? Of course, everyone is a “great team player” with “discipline and focus”, “well organised” and “results oriented”. The future of British industry looks to be in safe hands!
Naturally these attributes feature prominently in CVs because they are highly valued by employers. But are they always true?
Elite team sportsmen and women are usually, by definition, great team players. They have to be organised, disciplined and focussed to survive and thrive in their chosen field – not to mention have the tenacity to overcome injury and setbacks. These phrases in a sportsperson’s CV carry real meaning.
Employers also now expect a great deal from their new recruits, with early exposure to clients and external business associates being an integral aspect of most roles. Whilst I am sure our clients can feign polite interest in 100 gap year stories from our graduates, the experience and anecdotes of a successful athlete rarely fail to elicit genuine interest and respect from our clients, prospects and business associates.
Is there a drawback? Sportsmen and women enter the job market later than their graduate or school leaver competition and with no directly relevant work experience. My own experience of sports people is that their drive and organisation quickly close this age gap, such that it is usually irrelevant within a year or two and thereafter, their wider qualities continue to pay dividends indefinitely.
So that is the theory – how does it work in practice? Over a decade ago, we were presented with the opportunity to hire a former Olympic swimmer into the team. To be honest, I’m not sure we were that keen at the time. Insurance is a highly sociable industry still based heavily on face-to-face trading and the networks that builds. Not really understanding the world of Olympic swimming, my impression was of solitary hours spent powering up and down a single lane of a pool morning, noon and night, day in, day out. Our two worlds could barely have seemed further apart.
Circumstance allowed our misgivings to be put aside and we hired our swimmer, and to cut to 2017, that swimmer has built an exceptionally successful and lucrative career as an insurance broker, with a network to be envied and a reputation as one of the best brokers operating in his chosen specialism.
So dedication, focus, the ability to listen and learn and to look for constant self-improvement are indeed some of the key ingredients of success in the City and the world of finance. Of course, some intelligence helps, along with a sociable approach to life. But key are those characteristics so routinely found in sports men and women: drive, determination, humility, not accepting second best, always looking to improve and to ‘win’, whatever winning means at that moment in time.
When that successful and admired swimmer – who I am also happy to call a friend – offered Willis Towers Watson the opportunity to meet and interview some of the next generation of sportsmen and women at the 2016 Athlete Futures event in Coventry, athletes who were coming to the end of their careers, competing at the highest level and looking to transition to a career in the City, we were delighted to accept.
Our challenge, as it transpired, was to crystallise the pile of highly impressive CVs and particularly engaging interviews down to a manageable number of candidates for whom we had full time career opportunities. And how well we seem to have done. Iain Lewers joined WTW on 5 September 2017 and has settled in so well that he recently travelled to Chicago to meet clients and prospects at a major industry conference. Not far behind Iain is Holly Payne; Holly joined WTW on 21 September 2017 and is already making an impact on the team and trading partners in our marketplace. Both were hockey players in their former career.
Early days for both, but we clearly have two truly great team players whose discipline, focus and organisational skills are already evident and giving us the early signs of talent and promise in abundance. If things develop as we foretell, the insurance market will be adding two hockey internationals to that very successful swimmer and providing recruiters and other athletes with a reliable template for future success in the City (and, of course, elsewhere).
The Athletes’ View
“It’s over in the blink of an eye”. A familiar phrase that many sportsmen and women will have heard from their sporting predecessors. However, phrases like this probably aren’t fully understood until the final curtain comes down on an elite sporting career. Then what? Fortunately, the experiences I had throughout my sporting career helped develop characteristics that lend themselves to an envied starting point in business. I have been fortunate that WTW value the traits of elite sports people and are willing to invest in their potential. I am now six months into working with a very different team in a very different environment, however, the goal of continued success is still the same, and I look forward to applying the characteristics built up through a decade in elite sport in helping my new team.
As an elite athlete, you receive vast amounts of advice about the importance of planning for ‘life after sport’. But even as an extremely organised, determined, qualified individual, when that time actually comes, it can be a very daunting prospect. For me, my sporting career ended unexpectedly and I wasn’t sure exactly which career path I wanted to take. I knew it was important to me to work in an environment where team work was valued, where I could challenge myself and also strive for excellence in everything I pursued. I have been extremely lucky to find myself in an industry where these attributes are highly valued. WTW has provided me with a fantastic opportunity to work within a hardworking, results driven team environment, where interpersonal skills are also imperative. I am very excited for the new challenges that lie ahead for me in the insurance industry and I hope to bring many of the skills I have gained from my sporting career to my new team.
Starting Your Own Business
Intro by Jess Pether and questions answered by Beth Tweddle
When Beth Tweddle retired from the sport of gymnastics after London 2012, she left behind her an impressive list of achievements, including being a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion, a Commonwealth Champion, seven-times consecutive National Champion and of course, winning an Olympic bronze medal. Beth competed at three separate Olympic Games: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, at which she won bronze in the Uneven Bars.
Before she retired, Beth set up her own business, Total Gymnastics, which is a dedicated company that provides gymnastics classes around the UK in partnership with local schools and leisure centres. More recently she was appointed Board Director at Switch The Play, who work with individuals and organisations to educate and help athletes transition from professional sport into retirement.
We asked Britain’s greatest ever female gymnast some questions about her transition, retirement and the companies she now runs.
At what stage of your career did you start to think about your life after sport and start to prepare for this?
It was initially my parents who advised me to start thinking about what I could do away from sport. I don’t think there was a specific time during my career where I started to think about retirement, but when I was younger, there was very little option to create a career within gymnastics. Therefore I knew I needed to find something away from this, so I guess you could say I was thinking about it very early on. Throughout my career, I continued with my education and also tried many different things, including a sports massage course and a book-keeping course to see if these were things I might want to do.
Did you seek any advice at the time and if so, what was it/where did you go to get it?
I mainly spoke with my coach and my parents during my early career. When I then became a funded athlete, I spoke to my EIS Performance Lifestyle Advisor and my accountant and during my later career, I sought advice from my agent.
How did it come about that you ended up setting up your own business and what are the advantages for an ex-athlete?
I set up Total Gymnastics when I met another Olympic athlete, Steve Parry, who talked to me about setting up a gymnastic business similar to the one he was already running in swimming. Setting up your own business or becoming self-employed allows you to set your own hours of work, easily manage your workload and fit everything in around training, which is ideal. I was also able to create my own brand and company, ready for when I retired and could continue to do a job that I was passionate about.
What are the main lessons you’ve learned by setting up your own business and what advice/tips would you give others wanting to do the same?
The biggest piece of advice I would give is to speak to people around you to get lots of advice. Athletes now have lots of organisations to help them, as well as lifestyle advisors and independent organisations. By speaking with as many people as possible it will enable you to then sit down and work out which route you could take. Ultimately, whatever you end up doing, you’ll likely be doing for a long time so you need to be passionate about it. If you’re ever unsure, don’t be scared to ask for help.
In general, what would your advice be to athletes at any stage of their career when thinking about transition and a career after sport?
It’s never too early to start thinking about life away from sport. Learning and trying new things during your time as an athlete can have a positive effect on your sporting career and give you some focus in your life away from sport. I used university and other professional courses as a way to escape the pressures of training and competition. Try lots of different things; that way you can start to discover what you enjoy and what you don’t.
What are your plans for the future?
I work with Total Gymnastics and Switch the Play, so I’m planning to work more closely with them on a day to day basis as I’m passionate about giving children the opportunity to have a go at gymnastics and helping athletes find their way after their sporting career ends.
Performance Lifestyle: Top 10 Tips for Athletes Preparing for Life After Sport
By Jo Harrison, Head of EIS Performance Lifestyle
The English Institute of Sport has a team of 26 Performance Lifestyle (PL) Advisors who work with over 30 world class funded Olympic and Paralympic sports, providing a personalised support service to enable athletes to deal with the lifestyle demands of being an elite sportsperson and to assist them in developing personally and professionally to prepare for life after sport.
- Start with the End in Mind
Be honest with yourself as early in your career as possible and don’t ignore the inevitable; even after the most successful athletic careers, people need a new focus and purpose. Future proofing yourself is a sensible thing to do in any walk of life, but in sport, this is especially true as careers are relatively short. As athletes, you have so much to offer – why have one successful career when you can have two!
- Develop a Broad Identity
100% focus on sport, at the detriment of everything else in your life, may make your ultimate transition from a competitive career much harder. When being an athlete completely defines you, it can be extremely challenging to have to completely re-define yourself at retirement, and several athletes in this position have talked about not knowing who they are anymore, which can clearly negatively impact a smooth and successful transition. Keeping other interests or passions alive and developing who you are personally and professionally whilst being an athlete will help this and can also help you to maintain perspective through difficult times. Through our work in the Performance Lifestyle Team, athletes anecdotally tell us that doing something else that fits around training and competition can really help them to feel balanced and refreshed, which is beneficial for how they function and perform. Ask your PL Advisor about what #More2Me could mean for you.
- Network, Network, Network!
As an athlete you get to meet lots of people and you probably already know lots of people – developing your networks and understanding what others around you do can be really useful. Whether it’s in person or via different social media platforms (LinkedIn etc.) a strong network can be a very useful asset when looking for development opportunities such as work placements or simply just knowing someone in a particular sector or industry that you can talk to, to better understand their role or company.
- Say YES to Development Opportunities
Try to take advantage of any opportunities to learn and develop, whether that’s a course that you are interested in or an invitation to speak at an awards evening – the experience is good for your development and you never know who you might meet. Be curious and seek out opportunities to learn more about the jobs/employment sectors you think you might be interested in (use that network!). Try before you buy – test out possible careers whilst on programme through shadowing/placements to see what you like and make the most of any down time you have throughout the training year or during periods of injury. Through this kind of exploration you can count roles and industries out, which is just as useful as counting something in!
- Access Career Coaching
Wherever possible, get some career coaching prior to retirement, either through your PL advisor or through other options such as the National Careers Service. All PL Advisors are trained in career development and coaching and they have access to several tools and resources, such as Careers HQ, which is an online platform designed with athletes in mind. Attend Athlete Futures events that are held throughout the Olympic and Paralympic cycle and go along to any career related workshops that PL run or promote in your area, such as the recent “Start Your Own Business” workshops. Once you know the particular job sector that you are interested in, keep up to date with what is happening through trade/industry magazines and websites and where possible, use the UK Sport Personal Development Award (podium funded athletes only) for specialist courses, qualifications and skill development in preparation.
- Know Yourself
In order to make good career decisions it’s really important to understand yourself first. Knowing what you value in life and what is important to you will help create a great basis against which you can make solid, informed career decisions. Ensuring that your values are met by whatever future career or role you decide on will be important for your future happiness and well-being, and aligning those personal values to those of the company or organisation you are thinking of working for will be an important consideration too.
- Evidence your Transferable Skills
It is well known and documented that athletes have great transferable skills: Self-motivated, committed, hardworking and able to take on feedback etc. but ideally athletes need to be able to show potential employers that they can and have transferred these skills to good effect outside of sport – so it is very useful to be able to show where you have used these skills elsewhere, either through some form of employment (part time/casual), volunteering experience or work placements. Being able to reflect on how useful your skills are in other settings, and being able to evidence that, will help employers to see the huge employment potential in you!
- Develop a Good CV
Developing a good basic CV is a must and there are lots of resources online if you’re not sure where to start. Create a basic document and keep adding to it every time you do something outside of sport as well as inside. Gaining some work experience, however small, to boost your CV is a great idea and it will really help you to show your abilities inside and outside of sport. It’s also a good idea to tailor your CV to every role you apply for reflecting some of the language that is used in the job details. The PL team have lots of guides and resources for developing a good CV, so please just ask!
- Develop Your Interview Skills
In the vast majority of cases, for any job or role, you will need to complete an interview and there are different types for different roles, such as; competency based interviews, assessment centres and psychometrics. Not everyone naturally enjoys the process of being interviewed but being confident and articulate in an interview comes with practice and there are some definite techniques and skills that can be learnt. If possible, work with your PL Advisor to practice these skills and receive some constructive and supportive feedback. Use mock interviews to practice and after any real interview experience, ensure you reflect and always ask for feedback to keep improving.
- Emotional Support
Retiring from sport can be a difficult experience regardless of whether retirement is your choice or not, so please ensure you are talking to the people around you and those that care about you. Speaking to ex-athletes who have been through the process can help too. The emotions associated with retirement have been likened to those experienced through a period of grieving, so attending to the emotional side of transition is equally if not more important than dealing with the practicalities. If you are struggling to cope, please reach out for some support, either to someone you trust, to the PL Team or other organisations and support groups.
“Hello/Goodbye” – A Transition Blog
By Pamela Jones
February 21, 2018
It has been a really long time since my last blog post; sorry for keeping so quiet, but I have been busy getting through a period of big changes in my life - all changes for the better. I am going to be sharing some of these changes in my post below, but firstly I want to clarify the reason for the title of this, my final blog post. It is a "hello" to reconnect with you all after a long time of relative quietness on my pages/website. It is also "goodbye" because I have decided that I am going to be closing down my website. The time has come for me to renew my domains and hosting subscription, but I have made the decision to not renew. The reason for this will become clear in the rest of the post. I hope you enjoy.
Athlete transition. This is a relatively new term that has only really started to become mainstream in recent years. It is something that I had never really considered to be that important but luckily for me, I had people around me who knew better! I was encouraged by many people within my support team, both in rowing and at home, to start planning for a life after sport. Some people who are reading this will know that for the first year after my retirement, I set up my own business and worked freelance as a professional speaker. I had no agent, but was involved with a number of companies who would help develop me as a speaker and provided me
some amazing opportunities to share my rowing journey to thousands of people. Women Ahead/Moving Ahead are one of those companies, who have aways helped guide me to become a better speaker and I can't speak highly enough of the team there, including my amazing sister Monica. Monica was the one who opened up the world of rowing to me and then once rowing was gone, yet again she was there to help me move onto my next path.
For the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of speaking for some very progressive and pioneering companies about diversity, gender equality and my journey through sport. It has been a wonderful, eye-opening opportunity to learn so much about myself and how valuable athletes are after their time wearing the GB kit is over. I have been thinking for a while about my transition and how lucky I have been to have had the choice to retire. So many athletes never get that choice. It comes upon them far earlier than they planned due to illness, injury or underperformance. I was able to walk away from rowing with a result that I was delighted with in Rio and it made leaving sport behind an easy decision for me. My transition was made this way because I was prepared with a plan for what I wanted to do once I hung up my oars. For my final year on the GB Paralympic Rowing Team, I was attending courses and completing qualifications in preparation for my retirement.
It would be easy for me to boast about my amazing forethought and mature approach to my future, but truthfully, it was not my decision to retire after Rio that brought up the subject of transition. That started with a conversation back in 2013 with the Senior Performance Lifestyle Coach, Melanie Chowns at the English Institute of Sport. Meaning, three years before I stopped rowing, and two years before I had even made a decision about retiring, Mel was sitting me down and asking me what my plan was.
There were quite a few iterations of this plan. Firstly I thought about what I love. I came up with animals. So I was sent away with some information about
veterinary science courses. This option quickly disappeared when I decided going back to university was definitely NOT something I wanted to do (sometimes
knowing what you don’t want to do is as important as knowing what you do!). A few other thoughts about a career path came and went, and I remember feeling my concern levels rising. What did I want to do when I retired? Having this question in the back of my mind opened my eyes to a world of possibility. It made me look deeper into what I was interested in and the next topic that I started thinking about was food.
Now my love for food is apparent to anyone who takes a brief glance at my Instagram. I love cooking it, eating it (who doesn’t?) and also learning about it. Ask anyone I have rowed with or any of my friends/family and they will be able to recount numerous occasions where I have dished out a lecture about what foods are good/bad for you. I still stand by my statement that fat doesn’t make you fat… I love expanding my knowledge about the way our bodies interact with
the food we eat, an where that food comes from.
So at this point in my journey, on my list were animals and food. An opportunity arose with the EIS to enroll in an personal training qualification, which I started in 2014 and have spent countless training camps and train rides working on and I finally finished it last year. This was something I thought I would do just because it was a good qualification to have and it was nice to have something slightly more central to focus on outside of the grueling physical work I was putting in. I didn’t want to be a personal trainer full time but I did want to remain involved with sport and fitness. So that was something. It wasn’t everything.
The time came that I started to realise what career I wanted for myself after rowing, but it occurred to me that it wasn’t a realisation at all; it was something that I have always known. My interest in animals, food and exercise, my thirst for expanding my brain and, thanks to rowing, my ability to do repetitive tasks, left me with the conclusion that I wanted to be a farmer. No, I am not kidding.
The thought came to me when I was visiting my aunt in 2015 and she had a giant stack of wood that needed chopping, as well as some sort of wood store built. Alongside my aunt, my sister Monica and my 90 year old grandmother, we chopped up this pile of wood with a slightly under powered chain saw for the best part of four hours. For the entire four hours, I felt as motivated as I ever had been. Why on earth did I find this manual labour so satisfying? It became clear that problem solving, having clear goals and learning new skills - the things that made me a great athlete - were also going to serve me well after rowing. I also remember having a conversation with my then boyfriend, now hubsand, about eating meat, specifically organic meat (this is one of those lectures I will dish out to my nearest and dearest at any opportunity…). Rob and I spoke about how the only way you can really know where your food comes from is to grow it yourself. Having grown up on a farm himself, Rob knew the lifestyle it comes with and simply said that we could do that if I wanted to. Meaning, we could buy land with the intention of growing and raising as much of our own food as we could and maybe even try to make a business of it one day.
There has never been a more appropriate time to use the phrase, a seed was sown. From that conversation, I have not been able to see myself doing anything else. The following 18 months saw out my rowing career, then 18 more months proceeded that with my dabble into the professional speaker world but always with the end goal of stepping out of that world and into sustainable agriculture.
I was so grateful to have been able to use my personal development awards over the years afforded to me by the EIS. This PDA is a grant that athletes can use to pay for educational/vocational courses. I participated in some weird and wonderful farming focussed courses such as smallholding for beginners, sustainable beekeeping, lambing, pig butchery, cheese making, permaculture and many others. Each course propelled me further forward and I felt more invigorated the
more I stepped into this world. I remember a very strange week in early 2017 when I was giving a keynote to 150 financial planners in central London, attended a black tie dinner that evening and then was on the first train out the next morning to rural Wales to shadow a farmer during lambing season. Within 18 hours I went from a PowerPoint presentation and pencil skirt to birthing quadruplet lambs completely solo.
In July last year, I made a huge step forward towards this dream job - I packed up my dearest possessions, sold everything else and moved to America. Rob and I had been in a long distance relationship since 2013 and after getting engaged just after Rio, I moved out to Washington DC. We flew to Vegas the next day and got married. I was able to get a job at an amazing farm owned by three badass farming ladies and continued to learn about and love farming, but this time on a commercial scale. In the space of a two months, I have learnt more about vegetables than any number of books could teach me in two years.
Taking a small hiatus from farming, I travelled with Rob around the USA whilst he undertook the savage challenge he had been training towards for a few years: The Month of Marathons. Rob ran 31 marathons in 31 cities in 31 consecutive days. It was the most magnificent thing I have ever been a part of, and seeing the person I love most in the world achieve his dream was more than incredible. He raised over $200k for veteran charities in the process. One proud wife here, if you couldn’t tell…
Since the Month of Marathons finished, there hasn’t been much farming to do. The winters don’t provide the bountiful harvest offered in the summer months and that has opened up some more of my time to pursue my other passions. I recently started working for a veteran service organisation called the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. I am working in a consulting role as a marketing manager, I think all down to my stellar performances hosting the widely acclaimed Facebook
Live daily called the Pam Cam. This was the daily video blog I shared from inside the Month of Marathons team, broadcast atop roller skates. You really have to see it to appreciate it… trust me.
I have been keeping my love for exercise and fitness as a big part of my life by qualifying as a Black Hat Bootcamp trainer at a gym franchise called SoldierFit. The trainers at SoldierFit are a really close knit group, who always have each others backs and have an amazing 'all for one, one for all' mentality which rivals any rowing squad I have ever been a part of. It is very refreshing to be in such a tight knit group where there is no competitiveness, just co-operation. As for the farming? Well, it feels that I am so close I could reach out and grab it. Rob and I bought a 13 acre parcel of land in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia. It is beautiful and every time I set foot on our property, my longing to be living and farming there grows. We are waiting for many steps to be taken before building can start on the
land, so for now I will be left practicing the farmer's life in any way that I can.
To everyone who has made it this far in this blog post, thank you. You are probably the people that read, like and share every one of my blogs. I really appreciate your amazing support over the years and am excited to be able to share this final post with you all. I am closing the door on this transition to make room for another one. Starting a farm from scratch to one day, hopefully, be able to make a living from it is going to be HARD WORK. I will, of course, let you all know when things start moving in that direction.
Transition doesn’t happen over night. For a lot of people, it doesn’t happen at all. I hope this update on my journey after sport can share some insight into how my transition went so right! The most important factor was that I was made to have the conversation long before transition was a necessity. I was also afforded the freedom and time by my support team to start the transition process. Thanks again to all of my amazing supporters! Keep your eyes peeled for a ‘transition’ of my
social media/website from Pamela Relph, athlete extraordinaire to Pamela Jones, sustainable farming entrepreneur.