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Transferable skills: applying athletic skillsets to life after sport

Athletes make huge sacrifices as they work to win medals, break records and reach their full potential.

Sport takes priority over almost all other areas of life, with socialising, family time and hobbies replaced by regimented lifestyles, strict diets and tough training regimes.

Formal education and academia can also take a back seat, leading to many athletes retiring from sport without the qualifications and certifications that might adorn the resume of a professional in a non-sporting career.

As a result, employers and former sports pros alike can feel that athletes aren’t cut out for success in second careers after professional sport. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as Athlete Career Transition’s Performance Psychologist, Odette Hornby explains.

Why are athletes ideally positioned to become high achievers in second careers after sport?

Odette Hornby: Athletes may not be fully aware of the transferable skills they possess and may feel that the skills they have developed are only applicable within their sport. This is far from the case because sports professionals possess a multitude of skills that can be utilised in a variety of settings.

Athletes possess a strong drive to succeed, both on and off the field. They also tend to have a competitive edge that sets them apart from non-sporting individuals and drives them to give 110% in everything they do.

Athletes are conditioned to perform at their best, and they don't settle for second measures. It’s a mentality that carries over into their second careers, where they bring the same level of dedication and determination to their work.

Whether they're pursuing a new role in the same industry or transitioning to a completely different field, athletes tend to excel because they have a deep-seated desire to succeed and a proven track record of hard work and commitment.

It’s vital to help athletes fully recognise these strengths and understand how they can be put to use in other areas of life. It’s about recognising the value that pro sports people bring, developing their skillsets and enabling them to realise their full potential.

What specific skills do athletes develop in competitive sport that are transferable into traditional workplace settings?

OH: Athletes develop a wide range of skills through their competitive sport experiences that can be transferable to a more traditional workplace setting. They are accustomed to prevailing in high-demand situations, where they have to go through rigorous processes and training to reach specific goals and targets – concepts that are wholly applicable to success in any realm.

Athletes are familiar with delivering under pressure, having done so throughout their sporting careers. They have been in situations where they must block out doubt, fear and nerves, irrespective of the stakes, and process pressure to realise the best possible outcomes.

Athletes are typically very good communicators. Their sport can take them overseas where they meet all sorts of people from other cultures and backgrounds. Whether it’s dealing with media, fans, or sponsors, athletes are trained to articulate their feelings and present themselves in a very positive light, even if they’ve just come off the back of disappointment or defeat. These kinds of experiences make them very effective when interacting with colleagues, clients and customers in the workplace.

Finally, athletes have a sense of confidence that comes from knowing how much they have achieved in their sport. They have faced numerous challenges and overcome them, which gives them a self-assurance that can help them make great things happen in the workplace. They know how to set goals, work hard, and achieve their objectives, which is invaluable in any professional setting.

How does Athlete Career Transition help athletes to identify and develop skills ready for the workplace?

OH: The help given by Athlete Career Transition begins with having open and honest conversations. We work to understand what athletes’ strengths are, and help them to understand their other competencies. We might talk about their past achievements and highlight how they demonstrated confidence, versatility, commitment, or another positive trait.

It’s about bringing out things that athletes have done well and illustrating how their performance reveals abilities in ways they hadn’t thought about before. You can tell a person they’re great at something, but unless you isolate that talent and explain why it exists, or why it’s of merit, then that person might not fully believe you and be able to act on that talent in order to develop it. Open and honest conversations get this process of understanding and progress underway, allowing athletes to discover their strengths through our guidance.

Once an athlete is able to identify a strength, we then talk about how it can be applied in new professional environments and how that strength can be developed.

Athlete Career Transition

Athlete Career Transition (ACT) exists to help former athletes find successful second careers after sport.

We are with athletes every step of the way with a world class support programme that enables individuals to manage their own journeys.

We build transition readiness, identify skills and augment resources so that former sportsmen and sportswomen can move away from the playing field but continue as elite performers.


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