Why I left swimming after the bubble popped

The latest in our life after sport / athlete transition series. Jessica Lloyd OLY is a Business Psychologist at Zircon, after completing work experience at the same company after being introduced by LAPS. She was the youngest qualifier, at 16, in the original qualifying rounds for the London 2012 Olympic Games where she placed fifth. She won bronze and silver medals at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. You can find Jessica on LinkedIn.

I was never a swimmer that took it too seriously, and my coach understood that. I loved to train, push myself and see what I could achieve but it was never my style to take it too seriously or put too much pressure on what I was doing. I was a bit clueless about elite sport, I was in my own world.

The swimming bubble pops

Just before the Commonwealth Games in 2014, my mum got diagnosed with breast cancer. My family fell apart and I stopped swimming for a while to take care of my mum. She went into remission and I started training again. But swimming felt like a popped bubble, and so many things seemed more important than sport. It wasn’t the training I didn’t enjoy, it was the competition. I went from being an aggressive racer to not caring if I won or lost. It was a bit of a shame but you need that fire in your belly which I just didn’t have any more.

My mum’s illness made me come out of this swimming world bubble and it made me realise that in life, not many people follow swimming, not many people knew who I was. I found that hard. My identity as an athlete had gone and I was trying to find something else.

I finished professional swimming and began my own private swim school.

And that’s when I realised, I do like helping people. Some of these children were frightened of getting in the water and I managed to get them to swim, which gave me a huge sense of pride.

I then decided to start a psychology degree to smooth my athlete transition.

What next?

Alongside the degree, I signed up to LAPS and the Member Support Manager James introduced me to a few people, including my current boss Dr Amanda Potter from Zircon. LAPS helped me at a time when nobody else opened the door to me, and nobody else gave me a chance. I’m so grateful!

It was such a relief to have a plan and feel like someone was on my side.

I am now working in business psychology, having initially done work experience here at Zircon.

Like I found with the swim school, I really enjoy working with people. I might have conversations with clients along the lines of: ‘this is how you speak to people, this is what a psychologically safe environment is, this is how you measure your strengths with a psychometric assessment, this is you at your best.

You deal with businesses that acknowledge it’s a stressful environment, but still have to produce. I’m working with them to establish what creates trust in a team, how do you make people perform at their best, to create a better workplace culture and avoid constant employee turnover.

What swimming taught me about life after sport and athlete transition

My experiences in swimming have taught me a lot. I’ve had my struggles. There’s a lot of bullying to do with weight gain in swimming which is terrible – just terrible. One of my coaches, who I love to bits, said things about my weight that have stuck with me forever. At the time he thought he was doing me a favour! It’s made me reflect on how to create positive environments for other people.

Back to Zircon. It’s been really good and I can’t thank LAPS enough. The team here is brilliant and supportive. This feels right. This is the first time since retiring from swimming that I feel like, it’s the right fit.