Leaving rugby was painful – and irreplaceable

Peter Laverick had to retire from rugby in the UK with knee injuries, then took a semi-pro contract in Hong Kong but had to retire again after concussion. He shares his advice on how to move on from sport, when your career ends long before you wanted it to. You can find Peter on LinkedIn and Instagram.

I grew up in Bath and was part of the Bath Rugby academy, played a bit for the senior team and then when I didn’t get signed at 18, I played rugby in New Zealand for a year before joining Exeter University.

My degree was business economics. I wanted to keep my sport and education separate a bit with the future in mind, and I knew I enjoyed that kind of thing. I always had one eye on the future, but really with the aim of having a long, prosperous professional rugby career first, and then as soon as I joined Exeter University, I pretty much got picked up by Exeter Chiefs and was in with them training full time. I did my degree then stayed on for an extra three years on a full professional contract which was like a dream.

Hit by injuries

But most of that time I was injured or in rehab with knee surgeries. I had three knee surgeries in that four-year period, so it was an absolute stinker. I count myself lucky at times because I never really broke in to the top level, so I’m never going to be one of those guys sat on my porch missing the huge buzz of playing top level or international rugby. I never sort of had that huge crash and come down from that spotlight. I was always just injured.

I wanted a change and Exeter didn’t offer me a new contract, so I wanted to move to France, it was always my intention to go and travel with rugby as a means of seeing the world.

But as soon as Covid happened, I found myself in a bit of a hole. I was still living in Exeter with my best friend who was at Chiefs, I was 25, and overnight had to apply for jobs – during the pandemic.

“Have you considered Hong Kong?”

And then I caught up with an old rugby pal of mine, he mentioned Hong Kong and if I’d ever thought of Hong Kong and I really hadn’t at all. I didn’t know there was even a rugby scene out in Hong Kong. And the next day one of the semi-professional teams reached out to me and it was a real blessing, to be honest, at that point in my life because it wasn’t full time pro, but the contract that I got offered was very good.

It was a lifeline! I didn’t want to go to London. I didn’t want to pack up and live that corporate life straight away.

I had no idea about Hong Kong whatsoever. But I was sort of saying to myself, even if it was a year, fine, it’s better than waiting around and doing nothing. And then when I was in the UK still, but I knew I was moving to Hong Kong, I then was having job interviews with companies in Hong Kong, to try and get things lined up for when I touched down and could hit the ground running.

And at that point, I knew I was going to go play rugby. I knew I was going to live the other side of the world, which I was really excited for.

The whole experience was a huge whirlwind in Hong Kong, and I’ve now been here nearly four years, and no sign of leaving. The rugby networks really helped over here as well. I’ve actually had to retire from rugby altogether because of concussions.

I was in that office job for eight months. I knew straight away that I didn’t like it. But then through networking and having these opportunities through sport and the skills you learn from being a professional athlete, allow you to network more, talk to people and all these soft skills which then landed me a really cool job at a start-up in crypto and NFTs.

Rugby has to come to an end

I still really miss rugby. Even when I go down on a Saturday to watch my friends in Hong Kong, and I helped coach the first team last year and I had to completely remove myself this year.

Every week I was putting myself through torture and it got to the stage where I’m going back to the doctors again and saying, can I play? Is it a solid no? To which it was even more difficult because the doctor was like, no, it’s not a solid no, but it’s your decision. The data is still out there. Even now, when I go down and watch the boys, every time, I find it difficult. If I had a big red button where I could push and I could play again, I’d push it 100 times out of 100. It was the one thing in life where I was good at and it was my outlet for everything.

I was trying to replace rugby and you’ve got to learn that you can’t replace it.

It’s such a rush, it’s such a high, the adrenaline, the crowd, everything, that if I was to keep chasing that, you just leave yourself disappointed every time and you’re chasing the new thing and the new thing. I’m trying to change my mindset to don’t replace it because it’s truly irreplaceable. You are spending all day with your best friends doing the thing you loved in the world. So that is truly irreplaceable.

Changing my mental focus

I’m trying new sports and new things, and challenging myself in different ways. It’s not replacing anything, but I’m enjoying a shift of focus.

What really helps me, and I’ve been quite public about this, is writing a journal and writing things down. I do it every morning, every night, and then I do monthly check-ins, yearly check-ins, obviously, where you sort of highlight your life and it’s almost like an internal audit. It’s the sort of thing you do all the time as an athlete, you set your goal, short term, long term, and then you process how to get there.