I was recently asked to write an article with regards to what barriers I have faced when trying to make the transition from being a professional rugby player into the business world. After much deliberation I feel that there has been four barriers which I have faced in attempting to make the transition.
Welsh Rugby 7’s international, Chris Knight speaks candidly to Club Fit For Business, the not for profit sports business network founded by Blue Pencil, about the challenges of making the transition from sport to business. Chris represented Wales playing in 10 tournaments on the IRB Sevens World Series, scoring 20 tries. He was also a member of Wales 2013 Rugby World Cup sevens team playing in all 4 matches and scoring 2 tries. He has previously played rugby for the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues. In May 2016, after a season blighted by injury, he was informed that the Welsh Rugby Union would not be offering him a contract.
The initial barrier that I faced was coming to the stark realisation that, after a brief three years playing the game, my professional career might possibly be over.
I was unfortunate to only find out in the month of May that I wasn’t being offered a professional contract. By then the majority of clubs had already done their bulk of recruiting for the forthcoming season and it left me with an uphill battle to find a club. This also left me with very little time to plan for my transition into the working world.
I count myself lucky that despite suffering several lengthy injuries I am still able to play the sport I love. However at the ripe age 25 I should be in the prime years of my playing career, instead I found myself in the metaphorical wilderness, unsure of what direction to take.
With both my health and age on my side I still have goals and aspirations in rugby. I would love to represent my Country playing sevens at both the Commonwealth games and World Cup in 2018. However I have to be realistic.
The last thing I want to do is to sacrifice two years of my life chasing a dream which is potentially no longer available to me at the expense of starting a new career. But at the same time I don't want to look back at my career and think ‘What if I didn't give up?’
With no offers from professional clubs I decided the best and most sensible option was to find work whilst playing rugby at a semi-professional level. This decision would allow me to continue playing at a high enough standard to potentially keep in touch with my rugby aspirations whilst having the exciting opportunity to start building a new career. However making that decision hasn't been so easy when I have been faced by barrier 2.
The second barrier I faced was deciding on which career path I would like to pursue. For some players it’s obvious, they have a clear idea of what field they would like to work in or they are equipped with a qualification which steers them into a specific role. For myself it isn't such an easy or obvious choice.
As I wasn't involved in a rugby academy I was lucky to head to university and obtain a degree in Geography before chancing my arm playing professionally. Yes it was extremely beneficial and it equipped me with a broad skill set which is transferable into a multitude of jobs. It wasn’t however career specific and has left me no clearer on a career direction.
I have spent the best part of two months trying different personality tests and doing job research to help me identify what career would be right for me eventually narrowing the fields down slightly. I have a passion for sports and I would like to stay working within the sporting industry or within a role which has an affiliation with sport.
Even after highlighting the sports business industry I am still left with a field which encompasses so many different roles. Currently I am looking to gain experience in consulting, events management, sponsorship or sports travel. At times the process of finding a job has left me with more questions than answers and has only served to reinforce my perspective on the matter; unless I try working in a specific role or sector how can I rule it out?
In hindsight, I wish I had been more active during my time as a player in gaining the relevant industry experience. However I was rather naive and blocked out any post rugby thoughts believing my geography degree would set me in good stead for when I stopped playing.
It can be a sobering and daunting experience when a professional player finishes their career and realises that they are going to have to work for a living, often in a totally different environment.
Whatever job I end up accepting is going to be a stark contrast from my day to day experiences as a rugby player. It almost certainly will not include one day off a week or early afternoon finishes. Furthermore it’s unlikely that I will be able to wear shorts, trainers and a T-shirt to work. My working environment and colleagues will also change. The gym and training pitch will be replaced by a desk or office and no longer will I be working in a completely male dominated environment where banter is standard.
There is also is the social element of work. As a rugby player socials are confined to the cliques who like to superset a coffee and a cheeky Nandos post training. Beers are limited to post games, but with a modern day emphasis on recovery and nutrition they’re sometimes shunned for a soul destroying protein shake.
The working world, especially London, often revolves around going for drinks and socialising with clients and colleagues post work. I love socialising and I’m not shy of having a beverage but as a former pro who still has aspirations to play at the highest level it is something I will have to be constantly conscious about. I take great pride in staying healthy and maintaining my physical condition, so I’ll have to strike the right balance, factor in training and socialising around my work commitments and try not to be ‘that guy’ who has ‘chest day’ etched into his diary every Monday evening.
Finally there is the small factor of salary. It’s well known that rugby players can earn some incredible dollar for the minimal hours they work. I am going to have to accept that my starting salary is going to be lower than what I've previously earned. However depending on the career path I take and the effort I put in, my salary has the potential to grow year on year and eventually eclipse what I earned as a rugby player.
I feel this for me has been the most difficult barrier I have faced. My three years as a professional rugby player has equipped me with an incredible skill set. I didn't reach the top level by chance, It was through hours of hard work, determination and perseverance. Those same skills that have helped me become a professional rugby player are well sort out by businesses and are readily transferable into my next career.
The trick is to identify my transferable skills. Key business skills such as communication, team work, discipline, performing under pressure and goal setting are engrained in the rugby ethos and have been practiced every day on and off the field.
Couple these skills with those I obtained from completing my Geography degree and I have a unique and well sought out skill set. However I lack one vital feature, experience. And despite having all these wonderful skills I haven't had the chance to put them into action in a business environment.
The key goal for me is gaining the relevant experience or training in the sporting business world. This experience can come through applications, through networking or just by catching a break and getting lucky.
Unfortunately the last two months have been futile in trying to obtain the relevant experience. That has not been from a lack of trying but I believe a large portion of that has been due to barrier 1 preventing me from committing to a specific location. Now that I have made a decision to sign for Blackheath and move myself up to London I am hoping that things will be set into motion and an opportunity will come my way.
Sometimes it can be very discouraging when another week ticks by and despite sending out copious amounts of emails, having multiple phone conversations and constantly writing cover letters I still don’t even have an interview to show for my efforts.
That’s when the element of worry and doubt begins to creep in and you think to yourself am I employable or am I doing the right things? It also makes me wonder if I should just start applying for any old job and hope for the best. But during those times I feel extremely lucky to have such positive support and help from my family, my network of friends and my incredible partner.