What happens once the race is over

  • Jeff Willmore, Marketing and Communications Officer - Employer Engagement at Oxford Brookes, outlines a collaboration between the university and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust helping athletes transition into successful careers once they retire from sport.

    dkh

    The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust

    Few of us can imagine what it's like to be in an Olympic final, let alone win one.

    The fact that winning an Olympic medal is so difficult and elusive is what makes it so appealing to top sportsmen and women.

    Most athletes dedicate as much as 10 years of their lives just to be at the Olympics and all of them go to the games believing that they could be one of the world's best. But even the elite few who make it onto the rostrum, one day have to ask themselves a fundamental question: 'What happens next?'

    The facts are stark - most elite athletes have only a short time at the top, don't become Olympic champions and have to make a life change when their sporting career comes to an end.

    It is estimated 50,000 people have a career in professional sport - a sector where failure, injury and new competition can force a sudden rapid change of direction

    Without proper preparation for a second career they face a potentially challenging life journey after sport. It is estimated 50,000 people have a career in professional sport - a sector where failure, injury and new competition can force a sudden rapid change of direction or where even the achievement of a life goal can leave a huge void afterwards.

    The high pay myth

    There is also a myth that professional sports people are all well paid - too often fuelled by the media reports of Premiership salaries that would make even a City banker's eyes water.

    A League One or League Two football player will struggle to make a six-figure sum in total for perhaps a few seasons and an elite athlete in the national side in one of the less glamorous sports will rely heavily on their sports lottery grant.

    The truth is, most sports people certainly don't do it for the money and don't retire from sport with a nest egg. For most, a second career is vital.

    Elite athletes are no different to anyone else. They have families to feed and mortgages to pay. Many of them join the job market in their mid to late thirties without formal qualifications or significant work experience.

    British sport has never been more professional. Athletes are at last being given the best of everything so they have the best possible chance of winning. But what happens when the competition stops for whatever reason and it's time to call it a day?

    A top athlete's attention will have been so focussed on pursuing their sporting goals that they will not have had the opportunity to think about a career after sport and understandably even regarded it as a distraction.

    Teaming up with sports stars

    Over the past year or so, Oxford Brookes has been looking at how it can help professional footballers from outside the premiership with their careers after sport. They are working with a number of players on an individual basis and have close ties with Oxford United FC and the Professional Footballers Association.

    Now, having also teamed up with The Dame Kelly Homes Trust, Oxford Brookes experts are researching the support mechanisms that exist for retiring athletes from a wider range of sports and identifying how they can help them make the transition into a second career. The work has been partly funded by the University's Workforce Development initiative.

    A top athlete's attention will have been so focussed on pursuing their sporting goals that they will not have had the opportunity to think about a career after sport and understandably even regarded it as a distraction.

    The reality is of course that they will possess many transferable skills and knowledge that can help them into and with their next job. By working closely with support agencies such as the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust (DKHLT) we are able provide them with specialist help.

    The university will develop learning programmes for individual athletes which take into account the learning and skills they have already built up and help them get to where they would like to go next.

    That could be a number of career routes including business management within a company or setting up their own business.

    However, many athletes have not even considered what their next steps could be or where their work-related strengths lie. Before tailored learning programmes can be put together, more research needs to be completed. That is carried out by my colleague Steve Billcliffe.

    Practical action

    Here's an example of how the scheme works in practice: through its contacts with athletes and community projects, the Trust ensures young people have a chance to develop their potential using elite sportsmen and women who can support important community projects by acting as mentors and using their existing skills.

    In exchange, athletes receive help and support to make a career transition. Oxford Brookes will provide high quality support for those athletes as they think about career change.

    Our aim at this stage is simple - we need to both find out more about what the athletes need to succeed to make that transition and how they want learning and personal development programmes delivered.

    We hope to be able to develop learning programmes for athletes to start in 2013. We are all looking forward to London 2012 and know we are going to see some memorable sporting moments but part of the legacy of the Games must also be to capture the skills experience and expertise of our athletes to help them move on to fulfil their potential in the next stage in their lives.