A panel of retired athletes had plenty to pass on to their current high performance counterparts when they shared their stories of transitioning to life after sport at the recent inaugural Athlete and Alumni breakfast.
The panel began by sharing their career highlights at the event hosted by High Performance Sport NZ’s Athlete Life team.
For former world swimming champion Moss Burmester it was when he stepped off the top of the podium at the 2006 Commonwealth Games to see his teammates gathering to perform a haka. “It felt like the swim family coming together. It was awesome to have that level of support from the team.”
On the subject of retiring from swimming, Burmester said it had taken a long time to figure out what to do next. “I wish I had studied more when I was an athlete,” he said. “But now I know it’s normal to find it tough. It’s ok not to know exactly where you are going. I should have told more friends and family where I was at.”
Olympic boxer Alexis Pritchard said her career highlight wasn’t winning medals (though of course she was proud to win a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games). “It was when I finally knew I was good enough,” she said. Having read about athletes who struggled after sport, Pritchard tried to prepare for retirement. She had a plan A and a plan B. “But I still experienced a post-retirement lull.” Pritchard shared some of her transition takeaways: “Having supportive people around me was important. I also needed to have something to look forward to, something to get out of bed for each day. Some days I volunteered while I was still figuring things out – making lots of sandwiches for Eat My Lunch.”
Former para swimmer Daniel Holt said that having an exit strategy had made a difference to him. “Coming to grips mentally with not doing the sport that you’ve been consumed with is big.” Daniel has since discovered that a lot of what he did in sport is transferable to what he does now. “The coping mechanisms I developed from sport, and the drive to be the best I can be, is useful to me now.
Former netballer Charlotte Kight found the transition to life after sport “awesome”. Not long before she was forced to retire, having ruptured her achilles tendon, she’d heard about the FIFA master – an international postgraduate programme in management, law and humanities of sport. No longer able to play netball she knew exactly what she would to do next. Having already completed a law degree, she headed to Europe to complete the FIFA master. Even though her transition was largely a positive time of new opportunity, Charlotte admitted that there were learnings to be had. “I had always been ‘Charlotte the netballer’. Now I had to adjust to being ‘just Charlotte’.” On reflection she realises just how much support is available to high performance athletes.
The panel also agreed on the importance of continuing to stay active. “As athletes we are used to exercise being something we do to achieve our performance goals. Now I’ve learned to see exercise as something I need for my health and wellbeing,” Burmester said.
Dylan Schmidt (Trampolining), Olivia Mackay (Yachting), Vicki Hudson (Athlete Life Advisor), Elle Copeland (Alumni), Micah Wilkinson (Yachting), Erica Dawson (Yachting).The retired athletes also highlighted the value of networking. “Networking can be an uncomfortable word,” Kight said. “But when you are an athlete, people are interested. Don’t undersell what you have. People want to help you. Have coffee with people. Find out about them too. Every person you meet could provide a future opportunity. Be open to them.”
Trampolinist Dylan Schmidt found the insights about networking useful. “I can now see that networking isn’t just useful for finding a job,” he said. “I won’t be retiring or needing a career anytime soon, but clearly networking could help me now.”
The retired athletes have all gone on to develop interesting careers. Moss Burmester is now a Performance Specialist at Steel Performance Solutions. Charlotte Kight is currently the Performance & Relationship Manager at the Rugby Players Association. Daniel Holt is a Digital Services Adviser at University of Auckland, and Alexis Pritchard is a Mental Skills & Wellness Coach.
The athletes who attended the event were unanimously positive about it. Having heard from those who have already walked the path, perhaps they would agree with Isaac Newton when he said: