guest post from Stephen Jones
The journey to become an elite athlete is long and arduous, with many trials and tribulations. Those that reach the dizzying heights of professional sports know the feeling can be addictive, all encompassing. Once the curtain closes, the unique experiences, those extreme feelings, are rarely ever reached again.
As a former professional rugby player myself, with a career spanning over ten years, playing for top flight clubs一Newcastle Falcons, Edinburgh Rugby, Huddersfield Giants RLFC, Exeter Chiefs and Scotland ‘A’一that is exactly what it felt like to me. Reality came crashing into me like a runaway train when the whistle blew for the final time in my career. I was not prepared for what was awaiting me. I was lost.
I knew this day would eventually arrive. I prepared myself for it. I spent three years at university to attain my B.Sc (hons) and a further two more years to acquire a M.Sc. in Surveying (project management). The time had come to take the uncertain journey into the abyss. A nervous energy overcame me as I entered unchartered territory. A new chapter in my anticipated career, as daunting a task as I’d faced.
At first, “the honeymoon period” felt great. My spirits were high and I had pep in my step. I led meetings with confidence, something I’d learnt from a multitude of days in professional team environments where failure and triumph were maximised, silence and apprehension were not welcome in that arena. I drew up concise project plans and Gantt charts in great detail, obsessing about the correct technique in doing so. A reflection of my many days striking an inflated ball towards the goal posts with precision.
I discovered many similarities from my days as an elite athlete rolled over to my now 9-5 day job. It was all I knew and the sense of nostalgia never faltered. There was tremendous skill required to do this job justice. Challenges were plenty. At times I experienced a state of flow, where time passed and everything seemed effortless. But these times were few and far between. I soon became disillusioned. Something was missing. I began to feel like an empty plastic bag blowing around in the wind, having no control over the direction I took. I’d reached my fill. I had to start again.
What was there to lose?
It was time to reinvent myself. I had to reevaluate who I was, what I wanted and how I was going to get it. I eventually came to understand, it wasn’t the final whistle I’d heard those many years ago, but that of the first half. Now was a chance to refresh, an opportunity to reflect. It was merely “half time”. The first half mourning had waned. I was now ready to get back in the game, on a different field, with different set of rules, and a different uniform.
My revolution. The modification of my existing constitution had begun. I knew much more about myself. My wants and needs, my why, and finally my how. This journey had me heading back to university. Leading me to where I now find myself: A Coaching Psychologist, practitioner member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and qualified psychometric test user with British Psychological Society (BPS). Utilising my experience and education to support the development of individuals, with the mission to coach and guide people who have found themselves in similar situations as myself. Helping them transition as smoothly as possible into life after professional sport.
Reality is, the very thing that defined who you were as an athlete, your very being, has dimmed from the spotlight to now what resembles an opaque window. You have been institutionalised: directed when to eat, sleep and lift a weight for a number of repetitions, etc. However, all this will change. It will feel strange for a time. Experiencing and stepping through something similar to Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. Denying and bargaining; the reason so many retired athletes don their old uniforms. Perhaps crashing into a depressed feeling, lost with no hope. Until finally reaching a stage of acceptance. But don’t fear. The hedonic treadmill is at play. The levels of happiness that once existed will return to those you once knew yet, it will arrive in different forms.
The waters are murky. Unless you are prepared to dip your toe in, you’re never going to realise your full potential. Don’t falter. You’ve been here before. Fatigued but refreshed and ready for the second half. The excitement of the unknown. The trepidation of things ahead. You have demonstrated bravery many times before. Putting your mind and body through such turmoil to succeed. You know it’s worth it. The celebration, and the sensations that come with it. You can do it again….
Break it down into chunks; Team Sky call it ‘marginal gains’. Clearly mapping out a path on an uncertain road. Constantly reviewing and revising the next steps. First stop – discovery. Identify who you are. What you’re good at. What stresses you. What energises you. Having this knowledge removes the cloudiness that can often be misleading. Taking you through a number of assessments: personality, motivation and ability. This step helps form a picture of the elements necessary to explore y ou.
Next comes – identification. Aligning what you now know about yourself with a new career befitting to you. Collaboratively identifying the most ideal sector/industry, organisation and role. Like Cinderella and the glass slipper.
Finally, mapping. A skier setting off down the slope, speeding towards the slalom. It won’t be a clear straight path. You’ll have to shift from one pole to the next before reaching the finish line. However, at least now you’ll have some understanding of how the poles are laid out.
If this resonates, or sounds somewhat familiar, please reach out and connect with me. I’d love to help you discover, explore, and would welcome the opportunity to identify and map out a pathway. Let’s get started…
– Stephen Jones
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