Many of our 1,200-strong membership will, as well as being elite athletes, currently be pursuing studies, a second career, or looking to develop skills with an eye on life after sport.
There is ample anecdotal evidence to show how doing so can benefit an athlete both in and away from their sport, as highlighted here by para-cyclist Neil Fachie.
Alongside her role as captain of the Great Britain hockey team, BAC Board member Hollie Pearne-Webb is a qualified accountant, and works as a people consultant with EY Consulting. She spoke to BAC Athlete Engagement Manager, Kristian Thomas, about how her skills as a sportsperson have transferred into other areas of her life.
Kristian: As someone who works with athletes and non-athletes on a daily basis, what are the main advantages that you believe athletes possess, and can use to their benefit?
Hollie: There are so many. As athletes – and I’m guilty of this myself – I think we don’t realise how we work at such a high level. We see that as normal, because that’s what we do on a daily basis. Whether that’s how we speak with our team-mates, how we have constructive conversations, how we work in teams, how we set goals…there are so many things that we do that we see as normal, but the working world sees as really interesting, and something that would really help them.
As athletes we develop a huge amount of resilience, which is beneficial in the working world – we’re used to not getting selected, getting injured, not achieving the goals that we set out to achieve. We’re used to getting knocked down and having to get back up again. That’s a huge one that isn’t the norm for a lot of people.
We’re also natural problem-solvers. If we’ve got a problem – if we want to get fitter, or achieve a certain skill – we know how to achieve that. We break it down, we plot and we plan how we’re going to achieve that. Those skills are hugely transferrable.
We’re incredibly process-driven, rather than outcome focussed. Yes, we have a goal that we want to achieve, but we focus on the processes, and on our day-to-day activities that we tick off to achieve the end goal.
We’re also really demanding of ourselves. We’re our own worst critics. We barely give ourselves any praise, but we work exceptionally hard, and again, our norm is that we are surrounded by other athletes who are also exceptionally driven – that’s not the norm elsewhere, so that drive and determination is incredibly valuable and transferrable.
Kristian: As both careers have developed, how many skills from a sporting environment have you been able to adapt to your other career?
Hollie: I’ve worked part-time alongside being a full-time athlete the whole time, but even before that, when I was a junior, I’d be training and I’d be studying, and I think that the vast majority of athletes are like that – they don’t just have their sport going on. That means we have to balance, and we have to have good management skills – we have to be at training before we start, so we have to make sure that we’re up at the right time, and having breakfast at the right time before we go out and train.
As I mentioned before, we’re incredibly hard-working and incredibly disciplined – that’s not the norm. We have to be disciplined in everything we do, because every part of our life is geared towards achieving that goal, and that discipline is something I’ve been able to transfer.
We also know how to motivate ourselves. We all have those mornings where it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s raining, and you just don’t want to get out of bed and go and train. But you find that motivation – that motivation is inside of you because of those goals that you have set. That’s also something that I’ve been able to adapt to your career – there will be times when you find something not particularly enjoyable, but you have that goal in mind of what you want to achieve.
Also, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re doing, but to be successful kind of has the same blueprint and the same formula. As an athlete we know that blueprint, in terms of what we want to achieve and the steps we need to take to get there. Again, I’ve been able to transfer that ability of being able to break targets down, and establishing my own little project plan for myself. There are just so many skills, that again as athletes we probably just take for granted.
Kristian: A lot of these skills will be ones that all athletes have in common – do you feel that athletes sometimes fail to recognise the value of the skills that they have developed?
Hollie: The vast majority of athletes that I’ve spoken to – including myself – don’t appreciate how we work on a different level. Things that seem so normal are really valuable skills, no matter what career you want to go into or what you want to do.
It’s really pleasing now to see that more companies are realising the huge potential that there is in athletes. Companies can teach skills – everyone can learn new skills, but they can’t teach characteristics, and what you bring from your experience as an elite athlete. You can learn anything that they do, but you need those innate characteristics that we have as athletes.
There was a study done recently by EY on female C-suite employees, and they found that something like 96% of females in those positions, so right at the top of the company, had played sport at some level. I think that just says it all really, in terms of what sport gives you, the skills it gives you and the mindset that you develop from sport.
It’s pleasing to see companies realising that, but athletes now need to be more confident and realise that their skills are hugely valuable.
The BAC works within the high performance system to ensure that athletes are supported in every way. We work alongside the English Institute of Sport (EIS), whose Performance Lifestyle support is available to all World Class Programme athletes, and provides holistic support, promoting and encouraging activity and development that allows athletes to grow as people as well as sporting performers.
The #More2Me campaign is designed to encourage athletes to develop a more rounded identity which reflects them as a person, as well as a performer. It aims to prompt athletes to consider their lives outside of and beyond sport, whilst they are still competing – promoting life alongside sport, not just after.
To find out more, speak to someone in your sport’s support team.