guest piece from Monty Weatherall, McGill University
It is strange to think that the greatest joy and fulfillment that sport has given me started with something that as athletes we are drilled to avoid at all costs: quitting.
After nearly three years involved as a teenager in the Junior Academy of one of the top professional rugby clubs in the UK, I became disenfranchised after the club relocated 100 miles up the M40 from London to Coventry. After sticking it out for a year, I eventually decided to quit after my academic work began to slide as a direct result of the distractions of chasing a professional post-18 contract. The reality is that very few players make the Senior Academy level in English rugby, and devoting myself to this goal and also performing to my best ability academically, something I ultimately considered to be more important, wouldn’t be possible. Something had to give.
The biggest lesson I learned as a result of quitting is that all the hard work and sacrifices that you make when you’re trying to reach your goals don’t just disappear. It is possible to learn so much from the behaviors that were drilled into you as a member of a professional set-up at a young age. It gives you skills that are highly sought after in numerous environments, whether academic or in the workplace. That is why sportspeople are so highly in demand across these institutions. Furthermore, you retain the ability to compete at a high level as an athlete. These factors coalesce to create significant leverage that you can use to open doors and give yourself opportunities which, without your sporting background, wouldn’t be open to you.
The decision to quit top-level sport at that time provided me with sufficient experiences and raw sporting abilities necessary to use my sport to leverage opportunities in academia. It has meant that my applications to university have been enhanced by something more than just my grades, giving them extra weight. If there are two students aiming for the same course with identical grades, but one has evidence of the perseverance, endurance, and passion that comes with competing at elite level sport, the university will choose her every day.
I was lucky enough that my sporting CV got me an opportunity at McGill University in Canada. Here, I combine an intense rugby schedule during the Fall with a BA in International Development and Entrepreneurship. This would not have been possible without the leverage that rugby gave my application. It also wouldn’t have been possible without that decision to quit, as it was the act of taking a step back from such a narrowly-focused environment that allowed me to pursue other avenues and options in my life.
The message I want to get across to people of a similar age to myself is that you should never underestimate how far your sporting ability can get you in other areas of life. You have no idea how many different doors sport can open that don’t involve becoming a professional. For me, it opened up doors in academia, but the opportunities are endless. Sport is a great way to travel: it gives you a passport to spend one season in country A, and next year travel and play in country B, all the while always having a guaranteed group of friends and comrades with whom you share an interest. Never doubt how much sport has given you and the doors that it can open. If you don’t make it, all that you learned by training and competing at a high level will have taught you valuable lessons that will serve in the world of work, academia, and endless others.
It is up to you to investigate the opportunities that are associated with your sport. For example, colleges in America will hand out scholarships for talented athletes of all genders, in many areas and sports. At the end of the day, it is just about getting yourself out there and giving yourself exposure to all these opportunities.
– Monty Weatherall