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Exploring dual career opportunities as a professional athlete

With academic research focusing on athlete identity and transitions outside of sport, PSN's Head of Education, Amy Ward, offers an insight into the multiple benefits of balancing other work experiences alongside your sporting career.

What is a dual career?

In sport, a dual career is when an athlete undertakes education and/or work alongside their athletic career. Dual career opportunities facilitate athletes to think about how to prepare themselves for opportunities outside of their sporting life and to support athletes in having other interests and activities alongside their pursuit within sport.

Dual career initiatives should primarily focus on personal and professional development opportunities away from the pitch which enable an athlete to explore their identity outside of sport as well as enhancing their emotional wellbeing. This may involve practical support through work experience placements, formal education or general career guidance such as building your CV, growing a professional network or preparing for a job interview.

One of the core objectives for exploring a dual career is simply to get athletes to improve their self awareness to recognise their transferable skills and provide motivation to acquire new skills, whilst reflecting on how they can have an impact off the pitch both during and after their active sporting lives.

Why should you explore a dual career as an athlete?

While the main focus is to achieve sporting prowess, we need to dispel the myth that considering other interests and dual careers of an athlete's sport career comes with distraction and affects performance but instead leads to positive wellbeing, clearer self-identity, facilitates the identification of transferrable skills and grows supports and professional networks.

Most individuals cannot doubt that dual careers provide opportunities to gain experience, expand networks and broaden athletes' horizons, however, they also play an extremely important role within the emotional response of an athlete and how this influences an athletes thoughts and perceptions of their transitions out of sport, which inevitably is going to happen.

Given the typically shorter and uncertainty of a career as a professional athlete - 70 per cent of professional athletes are unable to choose when they stop playing - therefore it is vital that they understand the importance of dual career preparation during their sporting career and also to plan for the future.

Actively engaging with a variety of career activities and dual career support has been seen to result in more positive emotions. Feeling positive is often coupled with optimism and proactivity, enabling athletes to see their future out of sport not only in a much more positive light but it enables athletes to have a clearer identity which is crucial for reducing the uncertainty athletes can feel when faced with transitioning and planning for a future second career.

These who do have a clearer vision of who they are post-sport are seen to actively engage with support networks which is key for adjusting to significant life changes, and the more varied the support and the dual career activities they engage with, the better equipped an athlete is to provide additional dimensions to their identity resulting in them having a broader sense of themselves; they feel they are more than just an athlete.

Feeling comfortable, positive, optimistic about having other identities empowers athletes to take part in more focused dual career opportunities such as choosing a specific industry to gain experience in, undertaking specific qualifications, being more focused in up-skilling for their chosen ‘plan b’. All of which supports athletes to proactively reduce the prominence of their athletic identity as they approach retirement.

Studies show that one in two former professional athletes do not feel in control of their lives two years post retirement, with many suffering a loss of identity as that is all they have ever known from a young age. A dual career can provide protection from identity crisis through the transition process which aids them to be more adaptive to change as well as support their mental wellbeing.

"When it finally happens its horrible because that's all I've known since I was a kid. It's important to have some sort of focus elsewhere for when your sporting career does finish."

Steve Sidwell, former professional footballer for Chelsea FC

When athletes experience significant life events, such as the loss of contract, injury and sudden release, these are often coupled with intense negative emotions and passive behaviour. This emotional response can restrict the ability of the athlete to consider their next steps and their future at a time where it may be most required, showcasing the importance of experiencing dual career opportunities throughout ones' career in preparation for such events.

Dual careers provide athletes with the opportunity to consider and explore their future self in a positive, supportive environment which encourages them to maintain positivity and proactivity supporting the transition process whenever that may be. With most sports individuals still having approximately 40 years of their working life once they have transitioned out of sport, it is imperative that they get support and exposure to the world of work.

Where to start?

Premier Sports Network work closely with professional sports organisations and individual athletes to build a programme that operates around existing schedules. We are able to deliver tailored content for your specific audience and work with you to ensure the sessions add value to an athlete and current education offerings by underpinning existing activity with industry insights and opportunities away from the sport environment.

In partnership with some of the biggest brands in the world, such as Knight Frank, Guild Esports, Sky, TikTok and Toni & Guy, athletes will have the opportunity to engage in job placements to gain real life, hands on experience.

Find out more about how Life Skills is delivered

"I first started in property at 21 years old. It's been a passion of mine for 25 years, doing it in the afternoon when I was playing for United, I sat in on every meeting I could to learn another skill alongside football."

Gary Neville, former professional footballer, sports pundit and entrepreneur