No Plan B?

guest post from Jake Henry

About a month ago I made a post about my journey to France to play rugby after a long old slog in the RFU Championship. I talked about how Covid had affected playing time and that as a result of my behind the scenes work in design, I was able to begin freelance interior design alongside art and furniture procurement; something I am incredibly passionate about.

My post led to a number of players from the Premiership and the Championship messaging me and saying they wished they had heard similar stories and were actively encouraged to pursue the vast array of possibilities available to them in terms of employment post-rugby.

You don’t have to work at something you hate.

I was thinking about how best to write this blog. Do I tell you what I think you should do?  Do I tell you that you need to have a degree to fall back on? You’ve heard it all before. Instead I am just going to tell the story of how I went from solely playing rugby to entering into the world of art and design alongside playing.

I started rugby at the age of four. I had the largest of heads and a deep down desire to damage everything valuable in the family home. Sunday was Mum’s opportunity to breathe and Dad’s opportunity to run me and the little brother ragged. From that age until I was fortunate enough to get a place at Brighton College, rugby was just a hobby. I loved being part of a team, the physical demands and the camaraderie plus I felt I was pretty good. After being part of a successful college team and playing 7s with Marauders around the UK and in Europe I was pretty certain that all I wanted to do was play professional rugby.

There was no plan B.

Taking the University route

Ok, there was a plan B. Plan B was Mum telling me I had to go to university to do a degree. I went to UWIC in Cardiff to study Sports Science. I loved the experience, the rugby, the friends and the nightlife but I hated every single second of the degree. I was aware however, after being released from the Harlequins EPDG at 18 and my only honours being Divisional rugby, that university provided the potential springboard to launch a rugby career. So I stuck with it and completed the degree. Sure enough university and the odd game for Cardiff RFC alongside 7s led to England Students selection, Great Britain Student 7s, a gold medal in the world championships in Brive, France,  A Bronze medal in the student Olympics in Kazan, Russia, a couple of opportunities to train in the Premiership environment and with England 7s, a Sports Science degree but still no plan B.

Fortunately whilst I was at university I discovered a passion for sneaker culture, fashion, art toys (mainly Kaws and Murakami) and art, probably stemming from my grandparents who were both tailors and fashion designers. I wasn’t into the rarest of shoes and the most exclusive brands; instead I was obsessed with the creative process. From seasonal look books, to material selection and the craft of creating beautiful pieces, I was intrigued by all things creative. In a lot of these seasonal look books designers draw inspiration from architecture and designers (furniture, interior etc). I didn’t yet know it but I could look at a chair or building and name the designer or architect in a second. I watched every possible Grand Designs, home makeover show and world’s most extraordinary homes just because I loved the design process.

Lots of interests, lots of shoes. Still no plan B.

Turning Pro

My first professional contract was straight out of university with Plymouth Albion in the Championship. Apart from it being a massive personal achievement and meeting some incredible friends for life, it was definitely a season to forget. We lost pretty much every week and I soon realised a few things:

  1. I like to be busy
  2. If rugby is the only thing in your life and it’s a negative experience, it’s easy for that negativity to encroach on other aspects of your life.
  3. Don’t buy into the notion that if I do something else it will take away my attention from rugby and it will negatively affect my performance.

I coached at the local military base with a team mate and got in to middleman trading for sneakers and clothes. As my career continued in the Championship I continued to coach, set up a business importing a New York fashion brand’s old season stock to Europe, set up an Instagram to showcase art, fashion and sneakers, worked in club community foundations teaching, became a middle man for two motor cycle trades, mentored children from disadvantaged backgrounds and taught in schools. I enjoyed all of my little endeavours but I knew none of them made me as passionate as rugby did when I was growing up.

Even more shoes. Still no plan B.

Working on my future self

It was amongst all of these little endeavours that kept me busy and able to support my crippling sneaker addiction that I decided to make a conscious effort to work on my future self. Countless hours dedicated to the physical and mental rugby preparation but not much time pondering what’s next. I started an Instagram to showcase my love for fashion, shoes and art (went down like a turd sandwich amongst the lads) but I stuck with it as it was something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. I made the conscious decision to surround myself with creative, likeminded people which led to me becoming even more intrigued and inquisitive. I was shameless when it came to asking friends who were graphic designers, in the fashion industry and architects about their craft. I toyed with the idea of becoming a tailor and explored as many avenues in creative arts as I could. I knew I had a passion for design and creation but I couldn’t put my finger on which discipline.

After hours of Grand Designs, Instagram accounts including my own filled with beautiful interiors, art, fashion and furniture and more Pinterest boards than first phase crash balls, I realised that interior design was definitely the thing that I loved as much as rugby. I just wish I’d taken the time to self reflect and discover it sooner.

Plan B?

Getting started

I started by going online and researching the creative process. It boiled down to almost creating the look books that I had admired so much in fashion but for peoples’ homes. Selecting influences, design schemes, furniture, accessories, wall coverings, flooring, lighting etc. I took on a diploma and finished it in a few months and dived straight in to a full Bachelor of Arts degree which I am soon to finish; who would have thought it after the utter shambles of my first degree?

All the while I’ve been playing and training. I found that doing something else that I was passionate about meant that the stress of rugby seemed insignificant. We could come off the back of a loss, an absolute roasting in the analysis room staring down both barrels and I would be thinking this analysis suite could really do with some more natural light and a hint of green, it would really suit the carpet. It also meant I could come home and design whilst a lot of my team mates were fretting about the game.

I was in a completely separate mental space. Plan B.

I’ve heard the argument on numerous occasions that at the top it is difficult to divide your time between rugby and separate endeavours. The mental and physical drain synonymous with professional sport followed by hours grafting on a degree or something else. My argument would be you probably haven’t found something that you are passionate about and you are probably doing something because you feel you have to. I did the same with my first degree. My little brother (far smaller head than me) plays in the Premiership as a goal kicking 10, high stress and high training load. He is studying for a masters in psychology alongside his playing career and he has the same relentless and passionate energy towards psychology as he does his rugby. I’ve seen him during the high and low moments we all associate with professional sport but he is instantly grounded when he is researching his next psychological theory. Plan B.

Pursuing both passions

I arrived in France in July thinking I had escaped Covid and the rules and regulations surrounding team sport. I assumed croissants, wine and cheese, not checkpoints, confinement and curfew. Initially it looked good. We managed a full pre season and five games, out the back offloads, props throwing through the legs passes, referees with boxers longer than their shorts, bloody glorious stuff. Unfortunately Covid caught up and left us without the ability to train or play.

Fortunately for me this opened up some time. I had already completed a few small freelance jobs but I decided to push myself in to the design space a little further. I joined an app called UPWORK for freelancers and began creating a portfolio of my design style combining the sneaker culture, art and fashion that I have always loved in to my designs. I have been fortunate enough that already I have renovated a large art deco property in Puerto Rico, completed a yacht design in Ireland, sourced furniture from some of my favourite designers in Miami, completed two apartments in Saudi Arabia alongside completing design scheme work in Canada and Australia. I am also creating a platform on my @ragsnrooms account to showcase creatives in a series called ‘rooms’.

I am incredibly fortunate to be in the position where I am still pursuing my childhood dream of playing rugby. Exploring my passion for sneakers, art, fashion and architecture has led to me finding and pursing my plan B. Whatever your interests outside of sport whether it be music, plants, coffee, drawing, food, writing, make sure you fully explore these avenues. Make another passion your plan B.

Jake’s working on interior design projects and happy to hear from anyone who might be interested in working together.

You can follow his design account Rags&Rooms here:

Or connect with him here:

LAPS Members can discuss Jake’s post on our Community page.