from Ben Mercer, Head of Content at LAPS
Playing sport for a living has a hard stop to it. What to do next is the question. Some people have it all figured out, like last week’s contributor Patrick MacHugh, whereas some of us gather our qualifications, try out a few options and then think, ‘I’ve got absolutely no idea what to do.’
If you haven’t gathered, I’m one of these people! I tested things out over a few months and nothing was really grabbing me. I began to lose confidence that there even was something I’d enjoy doing.
One thing that did help me was to have an experimental mindset and in this vein, I enrolled on a short fiction course. The course was great for several reasons; it was anonymous, it was free and it kept me accountable to a deadline. My writing went down quite well and when a friend and mentor needed some writing for his consultancy business, I did another experiment. He’d send me a sentence or a topic for me to expand on and I would write an article for him.
These went down really well and given that they were about the intersection between sport and business, they were fun and interesting for me to write. I could take principles and lessons from sport, find some theory to back up their usefulness and apply them to business and leadership problems. As I was writing in his name, I felt some responsibility to make them good but I could also practice my craft in private. It was a way of improving in the shadows.
We did this for a while and for a long time, I was resistant to the idea of writing as myself. I picked up some more ghostwriting and was quite happy with it. At the time though, I’d been to see a career coach and she pushed me to put myself out there a bit more. The end of the rugby season rolled around and as I’d now spent a year out of the sport, I thought that writing some tips about how to deal with retirement would be an obvious first step. I wrote the clickbaity piece 6 tips for retiring rugby players and posted it as an article on LinkedIn.
In retrospect, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. But to me at the time, I felt like I was really putting myself out there. I posted it and thought, ‘If it gets ignored, that’s not really so bad.’ When it got some attention and some responses from across the rugby fraternity I was delighted. A rugby blog then reached out and asked if I fancied doing some writing for them. As a way to continue working in public, it was perfect.
Encouraged, I set up a website and as I was dealing with leaving professional sport, I began to put together a collection of resources that had helped me think about career transition. To supplement this, I conducted some interviews with friends and former teammates from around professional rugby and called the project Endgame. It was fun to do, helped me practice some skills and created a small body of work that I could point to. I was blogging as well which built my body of work some more.
As a LAPS Member, I get the job opportunities each week via email. One week, there was a role that caught my eye and I applied. I linked to Endgame and showed the cofounders Rob and Robbie that this was a topic I understood and had thought about. They ended up making up another role to suit my skills and now I’m the Head of Content. Writing online had shown them I had something to offer.
Since then, I’ve written a book. As a kid, the two things I wanted to do were play professional rugby and write a book. I’ve done both. While I never captained England and I’ve not yet written the modern day Count of Monte Cristo, I feel like I’ve not made a bad fist of it. As a result of doing this, I’m now advising and working with other athletes on their own book projects. Without writing my book, I’d never have had these opportunities.
One of the things we recommend at LAPS is to network. ‘Your network is your net worth’, ‘you are who you know’ and as research shows that up to 80% of roles are filled through a personal connection, it’s clear how important it is to know other people.
The problem is, there’s only one of us! Networking takes time and effort. Networking in person is not scalable. You can only do so much.
The way I grew my network was through writing in public in my own name. Once I did this, people that I didn’t know could find me. They could read my article at any time of day or night, they could like or comment or send me a message. I didn’t need to keep turning up and putting myself out there. My writing did that for me.
You don’t have to want to be a writer. It’s just a great way of telling everyone what you’re interested in or what you’re learning about. It doesn’t even have to be writing. You could record podcasts or videos. The thing is to have media that works for you. People can discover it for themselves or you can send it to people who you want to work with as proof that you’ve thought about their industry. It’s also a great way of growing your own business.
We’re all programmed to enjoy the feeling of a like or a share on social media and these things are loads of help. They’re not everything though. When you’re writing, think about who you want to see it. Where would you like to go or what opportunities do you want to attract? If you don’t know, that’s fine too. But if you do, it doesn’t matter how many people see your writing. You only need the one person to see it. The right person.
It’s important to note that no one asked me to do these things. I did them myself. I had some encouragement but no one paid me and no one told me they would lead to anything. I actually self-published my book as no one I spoke to was particularly interested in it.
That’s one of the big differences I’ve learned in leaving sport. Sport is like a video game. You get given a level to beat, a task to do or a target to hit and you just go after it. You might have some larger personal goals but for the most part, you do what you’re asked to do. Outside sport, you’ll sometimes have to make your own work. No one is going to give you the things you want to do on a plate. You need to show people who you are and what you can do. And one of the best ways of doing this is by writing online.
If you want to write online for us at LAPS then get in touch with Ben. We’ll give you a platform for your writing and help you to find the people who can help you get to where you want to go.
LAPS Members can discuss Ben’s post on our Community page.