1.) Reflect on your experiences
It is easy to quickly draw a line under what you have done in your professional sporting career and jump straight into the next challenge yet this would be missing a huge opportunity. Professional sport teaches you lessons that you can take with you and use for the rest of your life.
Don’t let this opportunity pass. Take some time to step back and think over your career writing down everything that you’ve learnt during this time. I carry this list with me constantly and refer to it on a regular basis.
2.) Leverage your experiences
Based on the exercise above identify the unique things you have learnt that you can use to give you an edge when it comes to the real world. You can build an entire career around the lessons you’ve learnt. Only a tiny percentage of people have played professional sport and only a tiny percentage of these have the foresight to use their experiences.
You are very unique and you can use this to your advantage in the world of work. Whether it be leadership skills or resilience there are things that professional sport teaches you that can’t be learnt elsewhere. Businesses are crying out for people like you who have these types of skills.
3.) Focus on your strengths
If playing professional sport was easy everyone would have done it. This obviously isn’t the case so take a moment to consider what it is about you that made you successful. Is it your work rate, your mental toughness or your ability to learn?
Identify these strengths and apply them to your future challenges. Even if you are going into a new career where you feel a long way behind others you can apply these strengths to quickly catch up and overtake.
4.) Know how to learn
You may or may not have previous qualifications or experience in certain areas of work. However it’s likely that there will be many situations where you have to start from scratch and be a beginner. Don’t be embarrassed or frustrated by this, your sporting career has given you the ability to become a master at learning and developing new skills.
Consider the game prep you used to go through: you’d do video sessions to develop a strategy, break that strategy into component parts, practice each element piece by piece, add these together, practice some more and then turn up the intensity until you’ve got the well-honed finished product. This method is one of your biggest advantages in the real world. You know how to learn. Utilise it.
5.) Stay humble
The real world has 2 kinds of people; those that respect what you’ve done and those that don’t give a shit. You will find that some people put you on a pedestal straight away and others that look down on you for your sporting career.
The only way to navigate this path is to stay humble, you don’t have to big up what you’ve done but you shouldn’t put it down either. Stay open and willing to learn from everyone you meet.
6.) Fix your body
Despite public perception being a full-time athlete is one of the most damaging things you can do for your body, especially in the contact sports. When you move into the real world the temptation may be to get comfortable at your desk and stay there. This is a bad move and will cost you further down the line.
Instead take the time to address any injuries and niggles you may have and keep to daily mobility work to keep yourself moving. Sitting down all day will only accentuate any weaknesses or tightness you have.
7.) Consider your calories
If you are training for several hours a day you need to eat thousands of calories a to maintain that activity level. You also have a much bigger margin for error and can get away with more ‘treat’ foods.
If you are moving into a sedentary job role then this situation will obviously change dramatically. You no longer have that need for calories and your error margins are much smaller.
You therefore need to be mindful of this and gradually reduce your calorie intake. As a professional athlete you will already know all the right types of food to eat. However it’s one thing knowing what the healthy choices area and another making them. The last thing you want to be is an overweight ex-pro that has let themselves go.
8.) Manage your finances
This is a very boring point, but nevertheless a crucial one. Whether you were at a high paying, modern club or a grittier more humble one you will have a big financial adjustment to make.
You may have to start paying for things you didn’t have to before such as your car, sports gear, supplements etc. You may have to take a big pay cut to start at the bottom of a career ladder or you may be much better off than previous.
Whatever the situation take a step back and create a financial plan, get help if you need to, because you will be in a period of adjustment and need a strategy to prevent yourself from getting into financial difficulties.
9.) Find your fix
Professional sport is a rollercoaster of emotions and you quickly calibrate yourself to work with this. When you step out of that world everything can feel very flat with little fluctuation in feelings. This is often very disconcerting and, unfortunately, a lot of ex-pros struggle with this and turn to unhealthy and damaging means of getting their rollercoaster fix such as drink and drugs.
You need to prepare for this transition and potentially put things in place to make it less of a sudden change. This could be playing the sport at a lower level, taking up a new sport or developing a new skill such as public speaking.
10.) Bite your lip
Sporting environments allow for honest, and often brutal, expressions of opinion. In office environments this is rarely the case. If you start creating memes about your co-workers or constantly try to get a bite out of them for their failings then you will probably find yourself sat in front of the HR department.
This is one of the biggest adjustments you will have to make. Bite your lip, your sense of humour will likely be very different to that of your new colleagues.
11.) Know when to get help
Despite best laid plans and your greatest efforts there may be things you encounter in your transition period that you struggle with. It’s important to know that this is ok and if you hit a low point go and get help.
Whether it be talking to therapists to discuss your mental state, a coach specialising in athlete transition or a mentor in your new career it is important that you take the step to reach out when you need it. You spent your whole sporting career surrounded by coaches so don’t expect to do everything on your own when adjusting to the next chapter in your life.