Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists and the Minister for Sport Mims Davies MP are backing a new initiative to encourage athletes to improve sport-life balance and recognise the benefits of planning for a life after sport.
Double Olympic champion, Lizzy Yarnold, and five-time Paralympic gold medallist, Hannah Cockroft, are two of the four top athletes backing a new initiative, #More2Me, to help athletes develop a better balance between sport and life and recognise the benefits of planning for retirement and life after sport.
The campaign, which is also backed by the Minister for Sport, Mims Davies MP, is designed to encourage elite athletes to develop a more-rounded identity which reflects them as a person, as well as an athlete. It aims to prompt athletes to consider their lives’ outside of and beyond sport, whilst they are still competing and not neglect this until they are close to retirement.
Further information on #More2Me and details of how athletes can access support is available here.
The four athletes that have agreed to champion #More2Me come from a cross-section of summer and winter, Olympic and Paralympic sports and are at different points in their sporting careers:
Lizzy Yarnold is a recently retired double Olympic gold medallist in Skeleton and Great Britain’s most successful ever Winter Olympian
Hannah Cockroft is a five-time Paralympic gold medallist in wheelchair racing who plans to compete at Tokyo 2020
Kristian Thomas is a retired artistic gymnast who won a bronze medal in the team event at the London 2012 Olympics
Nekoda Smythe-Davis is the current world championship silver medallist in Judo and aims to represent Team GB in Tokyo 2020
The athletes will champion #More2Me in the run-up to Tokyo 2020 and front a series of initiatives to drive awareness of #More2Me amongst fellow athletes and promote the message via social media.
Lizzy Yarnold said: “I never thought of myself as just an athlete and during my career I always aimed to strike a balance between being an athlete and having interests outside of sport. I felt that having a life outside of sport and doing things like being involved in education or pursuing hobbies helped me to relax into being an athlete and had a positive impact on my performance.
“It is an approach I would recommend to any young athlete that has aspirations to reach the top and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that doing things like education and having things in my life other than just training and competing were all major reasons why I was successful as an athlete and achieved the things I did.”
Hannah Cockroft added: “As an athlete, sport always comes first however I also recognise that it is important to have a life outside of training and competing and that one day I will not be an elite athlete so I need to think about what I want to do then.
“The EIS performance lifestyle advisor that works with our sport has given me a lot of help in this area and has enabled me to pursue a number of options, through courses in areas such as public speaking, television presenting and commentating. These are all things that I enjoy doing and would like to continue with once I have stopped competing.
“It does mean you have to manage your time carefully however I do believe it has benefitted me as both an athlete and a person to have interests outside of sport as it provides reassurance about the future as I know I am putting plans in place for when I transition out of sport.”
Watch Lizzy Yarnold’s #More2Me story:
Watch Kristian Thomas’ #More2Me story:
Watch Nekoda Smythe-Davis’ #More2Me story:
The #More2Me campaign has the backing of the Minister for Sport and UK Sport, which funds elite sport in the UK.
The Minister for Sport, Mims Davies MP, said: “Being a dedicated, fully focused elite athlete is hugely rewarding but can also be all-consuming. I hope this new initiative can help sportspeople use their talents so they can foster other interests too.
“It can give them an additional sense of identity and further opportunities beyond the sport which they love, so they are not left feeling isolated when their time as a competitive athlete comes to an end.”
The Chair of UK Sport, Dame Katherine Grainger, added: “It is very important for athletes to have balance in their lives and the UK high performance system works hard to provide great opportunities to ensure individuals can develop as both a performer and a person.
“My own EIS performance lifestyle advisor was instrumental in helping me create time for interests outside of sport as well as the important and challenging transition period when I started to think about life beyond high performance sport.
“It is crucial that each individual proactively looks to the opportunities available which can provide huge benefits in both the short and the long-term.”
#More2Me has been developed by the English Institute of Sport’s (EIS) Performance Lifestyle team which delivers a personalised support service to athletes from more than 30 UK Sport funded world class performance programmes.
EIS Performance Lifestyle services are available to more than 1,200 elite world class funded athletes and are designed to provide them with a variety of personal and career development support opportunities. This includes help with the process of transitioning out of sport.
According to the EIS’s Head of Performance Lifestyle, Joanna Harrison: “One of the things we often see with athletes coming to the end of their careers is a sense of huge loss as all the certainties they had in their sporting life are no longer in-place. This often reflects not only a lack of planning for retirement but also a loss of identity as their development as a person had been subsumed by their athletic endeavours and once they are no longer competing they can understandably often lack a sense of self and purpose.
“#More2Me aims to address this by encouraging athletes to think about these issues earlier in their careers by developing a more rounded identity and recognising that their future can be just as fulfilling as their competitive days.”
Former gymnast, Kristian Thomas has had a positive experience of transitioning out of sport after retiring in 2016 and is now training to be a Strength & Conditioning Coach and working as a part-time coach and ambassador for British Gymnastics.
Kristian explained: “Early in my career I had tunnel vision and was only interested in results, getting a certain score or of being selected for certain competitions, however about two years out from Rio it began to dawn on me that I needed to start thinking about what I was going to do after the Games as I knew it would be my last one.
“Working with our EIS Performance Lifestyle advisor helped me to think about what I am good at, what I might be interested in and what I need to do to pursue those interests. It meant that by the time of Rio I had a plan in place and six weeks after competing at the Games I started at University. It gave me a complete new focus in my life and is probably the biggest single reason why I have been able to make the transition out of sport so smoothly.”
Whilst the personal benefits of striking a better balance between sport and life and planning early for retirement are widely acknowledged within the high-performance system, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that athletes who engage with Performance Lifestyle services also benefit from improvements in performance.
A current athlete who believes she has benefitted from pursuing outside interests and thinking about her future career is Nekoda Smythe-Davis, who won a silver medal at the World Judo Championships in September 2018.
Nekoda intends to be part of Team GB at Tokyo 2020 but has also started to put in place plans for her post-sport career and, when she was injured in 2017, secured a UK Sport Personal Development Award which enabled her to take a coaching qualification.
Nekoda explained: “I love being an elite athlete but I also love sharing my knowledge and experiences. #More2Me encompasses this idea of not only being academic and studying alongside sport but also discovering and pursuing the other strengths and passions you have as an individual.
“Having other interests that I enjoy away from sport are very important and I am sure that in the future they will be a big help when the time comes to stop competing. As athletes, we all take different paths when we retire, so I believe it is beneficial to think about these issues during my competitive career as it will help me to develop an idea of the direction I may want to take when it comes to making the scary transition out of elite sport.”
A recent piece of empirical evidence on this issue is a study, published in 2018 by Professor David Lavallee from Abertay University in Dundee, which assessed the impact of engagement in career transition planning on elite sporting performance.
Data for the study was sourced from the National Rugby League, a top-level men’s professional sports league in Australasia, and included 28,516 performance selection observations for 632 players over three seasons.
Analysis of the data indicated that higher levels of engagement in career transition planning had a positive impact on performance on the field and length of playing career. It found higher levels of engagement in career decidedness and planning, were significantly related to players being selected (when available), the number of years players were contracted by a club and the longevity of playing careers in the NRL.
Professor Lavallee said: “The research demonstrates the performance benefits of engaging in career transition planning and challenges the view, which is still held by some people within sport, that this type of activity is a distraction and time not well spent.
“This has significant implications for elite sport and I believe the performance gains in world class systems over the next 20 years will come by providing support in areas such as mental health and career transition planning. These gains will not be marginal gains, they will be significantly greater.”
Joanna Harrison added: “There is a large amount of anecdotal experience but having this demonstrated through scientific data for the first time is very impactful and has significant implications for elite sport. Professor Lavallee’s research evidence supports this campaign as it shows that athletes who have interests outside of sport and plan for their retirement whilst they are still competing can perform better and be retained for longer.
“By taking on board the messages of #More2Me and engaging with Performance Lifestyle services, we believe athletes can achieve both performance benefits in their sport and be better equipped to manage the challenges they will face during their world class careers and when the time comes to retire from competition.”