Professional sporting careers don’t last long. Sportsmen and women dedicate their formative years to training, training, training, have a few years in the limelight and then… exactly! Then what? The transition from elite athlete to retiree can be demoralising and tough – so much so that Oxford Brookes University has set up a programme to help former athletes through the difficult times they often experience as their careers come to an end.
Thankfully, the world has changed since the retirement of one of the world’s most famous gold medallists, Jesse Owens. Owens was a thorn in Hitler’s side: the black athlete who defeated the Nazis’ Aryan super-men. However, when he returned home to the segregated US, Owens wasn’t even allowed to sit at the front of a bus. After being forced out of athletics, he drifted from job to job and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He wasn’t officially recognised by his country for four decades after the 1936 Olympics.
It’s fair to say that these days, the majority of retired sportsmen and women will try and stick with what they know and stay in the sporting arena, but behind the scenes rather than competing. When Lord Sebastian Coe hung up his track shoes, he developed a political career that ultimately saw him become ‘Mr Olympics’. Kevin Keegan took up football management, and many, like John McEnroe and Sue Barker, have become familiar faces in the media because of their TV and radio careers as commentators on the sport they once played.
Someone with the determination to succeed in their sport will have plenty they can teach the rest of us, not to mention a fair few interesting stories. Many athletes combine sporting success with motivational abilities, intelligence, wit and great story-telling skills, and go into careers as after dinner or conference speakers.
Hiring a professional speaker isn’t just about rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of sport (though that is, of course, a bonus). There are plenty of lessons to be learned from their experiences that can be applied to our own lives. For instance, Dame Ellen MacArthur’s adventures sailing solo around the world are not something the vast majority of people would want to do. But as a result of what she has experienced, she has become something of an expert on crisis management, dealing with challenges and achieving the impossible, which are things we all have to deal with in our lives and careers, albeit on a less spectacular scale.
Teamwork skills are something some sportspeople have to get right every time they compete. What they don’t know about working together probably isn’t worth knowing, so you can use their experience and learn from the best team players, such as rugby player Rob Andrew. That makes them inspirational celebrity speakers to have at business events and company team-building days.
But there are always exceptions to any rule, and some sportspeople have surprised us with what appear to be abrupt changes in their working lives. Who’d have thought that a successful boxer like George Foreman would end up becoming even more famous for his kitchen appliances than his right hooks, for instance? Or that the likes of Vinnie Jones and The Rock would discover an aptitude for acting? And who’d ever have guessed that a former footballer – cheeky chap Gary Lineker – would end up fronting one of the longest running ad campaigns ever… simply by eating crisps!
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Written by Alexandra Johnson, an events planner with 15 years experience in the corporate hospitality industry.