Now I am going to be brutally honest when I first started getting into rugby it was all about the youngsters, the showmen and of course the delectable bodies of said athletes. Then came the passion for the community, the driving force behind the game and what it really meant to all involved whether it be a fan, player, coach or the neutral that tags along to any game because they love the sport. But recently my head has been turned to what happens to the professionals once their playing careers are over.
For some it is something they can work up to, re skill and make a smooth transition into city life. For others the news is much less expected and therefore much harder to prepare for. Imagine if you will the stark reality that sometimes you are just no longer of any actual value to the organisation that pays you, and so like in many other businesses cuts are made. However in this instance it’s much harder to find a similar role where you might thrive. If rugby is all you have been doing since you left school and whether due to age or injury it is something that you can no longer do well, you may find your self in a position where there are very few options.
The more charismatic among the players may find an easy transition into the world of commentating, writing, internal club affairs or taking a step over the other side of the touch-line and becoming an agent. The more technically astute will usually become coaches and pass on their expertise. However what if you haven’t got these opportunities because lets face facts there are a lot more rugby players out there than there are Ben Kays and Austin Healeys. The other working life in business can be a very daunting place post playing career for those who have never done anything of its nature. The point in question was really first highlighted to me by Duncan Bell. He was so candid about his sudden retirement and the harsh realities of starting up his own business. The terrifying prospect that it may not all be ok in the end.
The harsh nature of this business often means there isn’t much support out there for these guys either. Of course there are the obvious places to go for advice your club, The RPA etc. But really where is the “hands on” advice and actual time that these players need hiding?
I recently attended an event which was put on by an organisation called RUINN which is headed up by ex Saracen Hugh Vyvyan. It was a networking event that allowed city individuals in London to mix with some recently retired rugby players and see if there was anything they could do that would be mutually beneficial for each other. In attendance was Ben Woods who recently found himself out in the cold after a long-term wrist injury had ruled him out of professional sport. Having known Ben through my work at Tigers it was great to see him in a completely different environment. The networking event put him in touch with several lawyers (Ben is currently studying for his Law conversion GDL) and will fingers crossed allow him to foster relationships and work experience to make the next few years a lot easier.
My issue comes is for the boys who aren’t Cambridge graduates and haven’t got the foggiest idea what they want to do post playing career. I know there is a lot of support in clubs to help players realise what they want to do when they have finished playing but in my mind it is still nowhere near enough. Rugby clubs typically harbour great working relationships with a variety of sizes of businesses. I feel it is imperative that a player is rounded into more than a machine on the pitch but a person that can swiftly move into other areas of work when their time with the club is finished. That support network needs to be there at a very minimum so the skills needed can be developed over years as opposed to over a few weeks/months when a player gets thrown in at the deep end.
Furthermore more players need to be encouraged by their agents and clubs alike to get involved in this sort of networking events whether it is RUINN or The Rugby Business Network or The RPA. It needs to be considered valuable to the club which at a business only level it isn’t. It means players taking a few hours here and there to aid their own personal development and unless this translates into points during the game it isn’t going to draw in more fans and therefore more money. However niceties aside unless the clubs are going to pay the big bucks to set up a player for life, the players need to be set up for post playing life. I would go as far to argue that an agent should be an agent for the player’s life not just their most valuable time when they are on the field. Often by the time a player actually sees the value in these events it’s too late and they are searching for work with a barely there CV.
Arguably however it is also down to us as fans and friends. Keep a look out for those who are retiring or coming up to retirement and think if it could in any way add value to your organisation if they were to even just gain some experience with you. Rugby life is typically a well-connected industry and I think if we all looked at our companies or friends’ companies there would be a slot there that could offer those players the start to their non playing lives they need. You may think this sounds like a barbaric idea as players must have these sorts of offer thrown at them routinely but believe me they really don’t. Or even if this isn’t possible lets look at where we are spending our money. At The Stoop instead of heading for one of the chain stands head for Ollie Kohn’s Jolly Hog and Sausage. When looking at mortgage brokers go to Duncan Bell. Refer your friends to them lets help build their empire from the inside. Support the charities that supports them and eventually I hope we will see fewer players facing the harsh truth that often awaits them come retirement.
Stay tuned for news of upcoming events that you can attend!