It’s difficult to sum up over a decade of learning and experiences all in a blog post so I’m not sure where I should start. We all have our own journey, and if this is the only paragraph you read from this post, the best advice I can give you is: stay true to yourself, be open minded, curious and develop yourself outside of sport.
I completed my IGCSE’s in Dubai. I was always a top student and seemed destined for university and a career. I also had football and went on to sign an apprenticeship agreement at Notts County FC aged 16. After a terrible first year, I excelled in my second and made my first team debut at 18. Big clubs and agents started to instil a sense of security as I received a professional contract but I couldn’t have been further away. I learned your first contract is the tip of the iceberg. I had three years as a professional, making a handful of appearances and then dropping into semi-professional football for another five years.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as I turned professional was having a tunnel vision. I piled so much pressure on myself and with no identity outside of sport it meant the lack of game time, poor performances and injuries psychologically hit me hard.
There’s an illusion in sport which often deceives us: if you don’t focus solely on your sport, you are not giving it your best shot. Now I and probably many others look back almost in anger and say to ourselves: what a waste. I could have done so much more.
Education and development are things I’m a huge advocate of now that I understand the benefits. As I ventured into semi-professional football, I got a taste of the office environment. In fact, I was very surprised when I was offered a role in my first ever interview despite having no work experience. I didn’t enjoy this particular role and I ploughed through for a few months and went back to the drawing board asking myself: what do I enjoy?
The biggest problem for many who fail to plan (like myself) is the older you get, the harder it gets to change careers. You need to support a family, pay the mortgage and work. There are not many hours left in the day to study or gain experience in another profession.
I realised one thing I valued was the desire to help others and be a positive influence in the game. I’d made a lot of mistakes during my short time as a professional and wanted to be involved with performance lifestyle or player care. I decided to pursue an online MSc in Sports Business Management and graduated in 2019 with a First.
Then I learnt how difficult it can be to secure employment in the sports sector. My belief was that having played professionally and with an undergraduate and Master’s degrees, I could easily find a great position in the industry.
I was reaching out to my network asking to come in and do free work experience and even that never materialised. It’s one of the reasons I encourage every athlete to explore and use their network whilst they are still in the game. We often hear it – your network is your net worth.
I would have had many opportunities at my feet to learn and gain work experience whilst I was still playing but I wasted that time. When you’re no longer at the top of your game, it’s a whole different story.
I was fortunate when a sports scholarship recruitment company called Athletes USA followed me on Instagram. I asked if any opportunities were available which led to the role I’m in today. As a UK country manager, I wear many different hats. I am tasked with growing a business. I work closely with our university search and marketing team, deliver presentations, have created a website, run Google adverts, written proposals, created videos, conducted interviews, hired interns, created an affiliate program… the list goes on. The role is all about thinking creatively and finding new ways to appeal to young athletes. I speak with these and their families on a daily basis and then help find them scholarship opportunities whilst supporting them through the transition to a US university. It’s an incredibly rewarding role!
Ultimately, the motivation is to help as many athletes, in the best way possible, with this once in a lifetime experience for students to combine higher education with high level sport. There’s no better feeling than seeing someone you’ve helped live a great four years in America.
As a company we are always looking to welcome individuals who need some work experience or would like to get their foot in the scholarship recruitment industry. If that’s you, drop me a message.