As with the start of any new Olympic and Paralympic cycle, the next few months will see an influx of new athletes joining World Class Programmes of various summer sports.
With the environment that they are joining likely to be different to anything that they have experienced before, we’ve asked some of our current and former members for their advice on getting used to the new challenges and opportunities which come with becoming a World Class Programme athlete.
Here, Georgie Twigg MBE – who won London bronze and Rio gold medals as part of the Great Britain women’s hockey team – explains how she was able to balance her hockey and burgeoning legal careers, and gives advice to any athlete wanting to remain in education, or continue to pursue a different career path, whilst on a World Class Programme.
“Growing up, I absolutely loved sport (not just hockey) but was also very conscious of not letting that impact on my studies. Whilst I was at school, hockey became my main sport and I was lucky enough to progress through the England age groups. At the time I was therefore having to balance studies, school hockey, club hockey, England hockey and everything else that comes with being a teenager! Obviously, sacrifices did have to be made, particularly to my social life, but I was doing something that I loved and had high aspirations for.
“During my second year at Bristol University, Danny Kerry, the women’s senior head coach, asked me to trial with the GB women’s team that were training full-time at Bisham Abbey for the London 2012 Olympics and following that trial period, I was then offered a full-time place.
“However, I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands as I had one year left of my law degree to complete. I remember at the time feeling fairly daunted by this big decision that I had to make, and I wasn’t quite sure what my options were. The best thing I did was go and talk to the head of the Law School to discuss my situation and explore what options I had before jumping into a decision. This was an unprecedented situation for them, but thankfully we came to a solution whereby I could split my final year over two years, they would record all my lectures and seminars for me so I would do most things remotely and I would then just come back every Friday and on my break weeks.
“At times it wasn’t always easy trying to juggle the two but I actually quite liked one being an escape from the other and it gave me a balance which I think you need when doing something so intense. I remember in the build up to London 2012 being very nervous prior to selection, and in fact, having to sit down and do some revision and focus on my work was a welcome distraction.
“In terms of how I managed to balance the two, I had to be very organised and plan ahead, taking into account busier training weeks, trips away, tournaments, assignment deadlines etc. I think having such a busy schedule did though make me very disciplined with my studies and made me more efficient with my time, for example if I needed to get something done in the gap between two training sessions, I just had to get it done then and couldn’t procrastinate.
“For me it was important to complete my studies as I was very aware that a professional sports career can be cut short at any point in time through, for example, injury or non-selection. I was also acutely aware that the transition an athlete makes after sport can be very tricky and I wanted to make sure I was as best prepared as I could be.
“Whilst at Bristol University I therefore managed to secure a training contract with London law firm Bird & Bird and the plan was to do my LPC (Legal Practitioner’s Course) the year after London 2012 and then start my training contract the year after that. However, when it came to it, I had just had my first taste of an Olympic Games in London where we had won bronze and I didn’t feel ready to stop there.
“Again, I was fairly nervous about having the conversation with Bird & Bird and wasn’t sure what the best options were, but I remember going into their offices and having a really open and honest conversation about the situation. For them, it was preferable to just defer my start date until September 2016 (rather than trying to do anything part-time) and this meant I could focus all my energies on Rio with the knowledge that I had a job waiting for me once I stopped.
“Looking back now, I am so grateful that I was able to juggle the two and I certainly think it helped me with my transition of stepping away from international hockey as I was immediately thrown into a new challenge post Rio. There’s no denying it obviously did have its challenges at times, but I do also really believe that it gave me a balance and perspective which I think I needed when training for an Olympic Games.
“For any young athlete contemplating balancing a sporting career with their studies, my top pieces of advice are:
Athletes requiring assistance in this area can access support via the BAC (firstname.lastname@example.org) or their Performance Lifestyle Advisor.