They may not all leave with medals but com­peti­tors are de­vel­op­ing skills to set them up for life af­ter sport


I’VE been watch­ing some of my fel­low Bond Univer­sity stu­dents in the pool at the Com­mon­wealth Games this week. Four of them – Alex Gra­ham, Eli­jah Win­ning­ton, Made­line Groves and Laura Tay­lor – won medals.

They may not re­alise it yet, but this quar­tet and many oth­ers com­pet­ing on the Gold Coast have also been col­lect­ing many of the at­tributes needed to win in the busi­ness world.

We’ve known for some time that many of the skills sports­peo­ple amass can be par­layed into suc­cess­ful cor­po­rate ca­reers. Un­til re­cently though, many ath­letes have been held back in their tran­si­tion to post­com­pet­i­tive life be­cause they lacked a for­mal frame­work of ed­u­ca­tion to ex­ploit those hard-earned lessons.

Swim­mers have been par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to this knowl­edge gap be­cause, gen­er­ally, it’s a young per­son’s sport. I know peo­ple who left school early and fo­cused en­tirely on swim­ming. Fif­teen years later, they hadn’t fin­ished high school or TAFE or gone to univer­sity.

That’s chang­ing. Elite ath­letes are in­creas­ingly aware of the need to pre­pare for life af­ter com­pe­ti­tion. They’re also dis­cov­er­ing that, far from com­pro­mis­ing each other, study and sport are com­ple­men­tary.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, stu­dent ath­letes made up 55 per cent of the Aus­tralian team yet brought home 62 per cent of the medals.

It’s a mis­con­cep­tion that in or­der to be­come an elite ath­lete you must ded­i­cate 100 per cent of your time and ef­fort to sport. The proof is in the re­search: sport im­proves clar­ity of mind and mood, and not just at the elite level.

When you stand on the blocks there is so much pres­sure on you – from your­self; from an en­tire coun­try.

Dur­ing my swim­ming ca­reer I found that if I had a bad day in the pool I could seek so­lace in study. If an exam didn’t go so well, it felt good to get back in the wa­ter.

When I was com­pet­ing, my two loves were sci­ence and sport. It meant that when I fin­ished com­pet­ing I had an­other pas­sion I could di­vert my en­ergy into.

Feel­ing that I still had some­thing to of­fer in life, in a world be­yond swim­ming up and down a pool, made a huge dif­fer­ence to me.

There are so many at­tributes that sports teach, from kids through to adults – and I don’t think it mat­ters what level you reach.

You learn re­silience and time man­age­ment. You have to over­come ob­sta­cles and set­backs.

Mo­ti­va­tion is an­other at­tribute prized es­pe­cially in the en­tre­pre­neur­ial com­mu­nity.

Sport is not just about fronting up and get­ting ac­co­lades. To get to that point you have to be able to set a goal and go af­ter it with ev­ery­thing you’ve got.

Work­ing in a team is an­other skill ath­letes learn -even if they’re com­pet­ing in an in­di­vid­ual sport. I had to work with my coach, ex­er­cise sci­en­tists, biomech­a­nists, and mas­sage tand ex­er­cise ther­a­pists.

My favourite part of swim­ming was re­lays. Build­ing each other up, learn­ing how to work through con­flict -- all those things are in­te­gral to sport and the work­force.

Not ev­ery­one will take home a medal at these Games. But whether they know it or not, many of the ath­letes com­pet­ing will leave the Gold Coast with a skill set that makes them supremely em­ploy­able.

Me­lanie Wright is a for­mer Aus­tralian swim­mer and Olympic gold medal­list who holds a Bach­e­lor of Biomed­i­cal Sci­ence and a Mas­ters of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion. She is study­ing Medicine at Bond Univer­sity to be­come a doc­tor.

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