Written by Andy Moore.
As athletes, we give so much to our sport. We struggle to see that there really is more to life. We become so immersed in the game that we don’t take the time to step back and really put things into perspective – our life, our family, things we can sometimes take for granted.
As an athlete you are constantly surrounded by support. Rugby in particular is an incredible example of just how a sport can bring athletes together. A complete brotherhood that is there with you through life and most importantly the game.
Finding a balance between life and sport is something which athletes face every day along with the challenges of being truly prepared for life after sport. Putting this adversity into perspective is the key to coping when that time comes.
Breaking through the barriers and setting an example of just how to put their life into perspective is former Scottish international rugby player, Doddie Weir, who I found myself up against internationally in 1998 in Wales v Scotland.
As one of rugby’s most recognised personalities, earning 61 caps for Scotland during his successful playing career, he now faces one of the most challenging times of his life after being diagnosed with Motor Neurones Disease in 2016. Not one to let it get the better of him, he founded the ‘My Name’5 Doddie’ charity in 2017 with an aim to raise funds to aid research into the causes of MND, investigate potential cures as well as make grants to individuals suffering from the disease, enabling them to live a fulfilled life.
“My attitude is that you should do what you can today and worry about tomorrow when it comes. This is the card I’ve been dealt so I’ve just got to crack on,” Doddie Weir.
The brotherhood of rugby really came together to help support Doddie when he was diagnosed and he was overwhelmed with the support that he received, but nothing matches or replaces the support you receive from your own family and this is something that as an athlete you cannot forget. Making sure you take the time to appreciate your family even while giving everything to sport because in reality - retirement from sport could come at any time, but you will always have your family.
Doddie is always someone I’ve admired. Not just for the way he played but for the kind of bloke he is, he was sportsman-like, and he was a really good role model. He has three boys and that really hit home with me, I have two myself and it really does put it into perspective.
My own rugby career ended after a serious neck injury back in 2004. I did not receive any support from the Players Union in Wales and if it wasn’t for the love and support from my family and close friends, mentally, I don’t think I would have coped. Looking back, it could have affected my mental health more seriously than it has done.
Coping with life after sport isn’t just about how it affects you mentally but also physically. I still live with pain every day from twelve operations I endured during my rugby career, as they say though, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
Each athlete copes with life after sport differently, and unfortunately in some cases it has led to athletes taking their own lives. This is often down to the inability to deal with the psychological changes and physical pain from sporting injuries. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of retiring athletes which is why it’s incredibly important that we support them not only throughout their sporting careers, but in life away from, and after sport.
Myself and my brother Steve now devote our time to supporting these athletes transition to life after sport, along with our very own specialist transition psychologist Ben Paszkowec, who also understands the challenges as a former elite athlete himself.
Creating a sustainable support structure and balanced lifestyle approach for athletes is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing athletes today, without which, transitioning to life after sport is made even more, if not too difficult.