Why your character not your skill is your athletic superpower

guest post from Trystan Bevan


A transition from one job to the next can be seamless. Transferable skills, interchangeable educational and knowledge streams grant many the ability to move from one industry to the next with relative ease.

Consider those however that have had a vertical career journey down one path where their perceived expertise is so specialised and narrow that they start believing the myth that they might struggle to adapt their abilities elsewhere. This is part of the reason sports people find post-sporting life so difficult. Having been celebrated as being highly adept at a desirable skill, in their mid-thirties or so they often find avenues to apply their skills and knowledge in other professions hard to come by. Their confidence and self-efficacies vanish.

Having been fortunate (- yes, fortunate – because this plays as much as a part in succeeding in our aspirations as all other variables) to work at the sharp end of performance sport for the last two decades, I have had the great pleasure to see those at the top of their sport prepare and compete in their prime, but I’ve also been witness to the fact that the path many take when winding down their careers can be filled with doubt, insecurity and trepidation. Only the vast minority, even at the highest monetary level, earn enough to be able to retire entirely upon retiring from sport and what comes next can often be symbolised with a large looming question mark.

The peak of the mountain that they take years to climb often has a sheer cliff face on the other side upon descent.

This is certainly true in my chosen sport of Rugby Union where despite immeasurably better support being provided now, the landing on the other side of a career can very hard indeed.

This is why the traits of us as individuals are as important as our skills. How we deal with challenge, adversity, and problematic scenarios as people are as important as how we eventually solve them or adapt to them.

In the recently released autobiography Track Record, which I had the immense honour and pleasure to write along with Olympic gold-medal winning athlete Darren Campbell, he took me as his co-writer, on a journey full of incredible adversity, closed doors and glass ceilings. He lifted the lid on growing up in a deprived area of Manchester during an exceptionally difficult time and how the mechanisms learnt through overcoming tough times forged a resilience in his character that was able to deal with ‘lesser’ challenges such as taking on the world’s best on athletics tracks. Darren afforded me the pleasure of putting to paper his thoughts and experiences. Much of the content came from vivid, meanderingly pleasant conversations down memory lane in the comfort of his own home where we’d occasionally unearth outrageous memories interspersed with his candid thoughts on where he’s got to and how he got there.

Even those adorned with Olympic gold found the road to and from there harder than we might imagine. Sometimes it’s actually harder than was necessary.

Many of Darren’s stories of dealing with troubles at every turn professionally, academically, socially and personally provided an often-stark picture of how the rough road often creates the better driver. Darren has gone on to form a successful business, be a highly respected coach, sports commentator (and now author), with the thematic background of character resilience bubbling away beneath the surface the entire time. The direct line between his social deprivation in Manchester as a youngster, to losing friends through gang violence, to having the requisite mental strength to cope with difficult times is obvious when you spend time listening to him. He also showed disarming honesty in describing some of the more vulnerable times in his life – a sign of character strength that would have been unpalatable only a decade ago in most sports people’s autobiographies where for so long, image trumped substance.

We often hear of the transferable skills that sport provides people to appraise, analyse, provide drive and adaptability that the workplace can benefit from. Darren Campbell’s story shows the value of your character traits underpinning those incredible abilities and skills and their importance in shaping a person when the tough times come. Respect the how in your athletic career but don’t underestimate the why.


Darren Campbell’s book ‘Track Record’ is available now.

Buy the book here

Twitter: @TrystanBevan1 & @campbelldarren

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trystan-bevan-1141704a/

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