In the world of sport, only a few make it to the very top and carve out a good living.
For that reason alone, it’s a good idea for sportsmen and women aspiring to national and international success to have an alternative career. And there are other reasons to prepare for an alternative career.
What happens when an athlete is at the top of his or her game and suffers a sport-stopping injury, or they get dropped at the whim of selectors?
At the University of Waikato dedicated staff work with high-performing sports people to help them study for a qualification and at the same time, work on their sporting goals.
High Performance Student Scholarship Manager Greg O’Carroll says it’s good for athletes to have a focus outside their sport. “Sports people can become obsessed with their end goal if it dominates all their waking hours and their physical and mental health can suffer. If they take time to think about other things, learn new skills, gain new knowledge then they will be better for it, and they equip themselves for a life after sport.”
Recently the university set up SASH, a Student-Athlete Support Hub, giving athletes the opportunity to come together, discuss any issues they may be having with their study or their sport. Emma Fox, is the Academic Lead for SASH and works alongside Greg. She says a lot of what they do with athletes comes down to planning and communication. Not just with the students, but across the university.
“Often sports people need big chunks of time off to attend competitions, so we have to work with their lecturers to see how absences can be accommodated without the students missing out on too much. Technology has certainly helped that in recent years with more lectures and courses delivered online.”
Alongside the university, High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) has a significant role to play too. Tina Ryan, an Athlete Life Advisor with HPSNZ says the Waikato Bay of Plenty region has the biggest cluster of elite athletes in New Zealand and HPSNZ actively encourages athletes to do study if they can.
The HPSNZ Athlete Life programme is designed to help athletes maximise their performance in both sport and life. This includes supporting athletes to build identities outside of sport, develop transferable skills, plan for their futures and promote overall wellbeing. “So the university has a key role in that,” says Tina. “It makes sense for us to work together. It’s about collaborating to find out the best way forward to support them.”
The University through UniRec runs athlete development sessions for high performance athletes and runs workshops on relevant subjects, such as nutrition, psychology, and leadership development.
Greg says what he’d like now is a physical place on the university campus where high performing athletes can go. “They need a place of their own, even if it’s just to heat their lunch. Take our rowers, for example, they get off the water, come to a lecture and usually don’t have time to go anywhere else before they’re heading back to Karapiro for another training session. A place of their own would also give athletes a space to meet other athletes, where they could mentor each other and help out newbies with their courses, things like that.”
Greg says he hears all the time how athletes like coming to campus, rather than studying entirely online. They like the “uni vibe” he says. “So if we can attract more high performing athletes by continually improving what we can offer, then that has to be a good thing.”