For many high-performing athletes, competing at the highest level means rigorous daily training sessions, endless travel and times of extreme isolation away from friends and family, leaving little time for anything else.
While success can bring financial security for some athletes at the very top of their sport, others can enjoy long and successful careers without the same financial rewards when their time at the top is up.
Dr Sue Brown, Director of International Sport Management at Federation University Australia, will highlight the benefits athletes can get by having dual careers or studying while they compete, as part of the World Academy of Sport’s High-Performance Athlete Pathway Programme in June.
Dr Brown said it was not just in their lives after sport where athletes could get a boost from having another career or study under their belts.
“Many of these athletes also have very short careers during which time their priority is just focused on their sport performance while trying to achieve as much as they can. But research shows that combining their sport with another job or study can enhance their athletic performance. For example, research has shown that by taking a more flexible approach to completing education commitments while maintaining a sports programme, student-athletes can improve their average sleep time and reduce stress levels,” Dr Brown said.
“Having more balance in their lives and taking a holistic approach can certainly give athletes a performance boost.”
The High-Performance Athlete Pathway Programme is aimed at those managing athlete pathways and performance programmes and representatives of national federation administrations that have a demonstrated responsibility in athlete pathways, including pathway managers and performance directors.
“The idea of this presentation is for these high-performance pathway managers and performance directors to incorporate and understand the value of dual careers and understand the value of education. The priority for many sports is focused on the athletes’ performance – education or life balance can often take a back seat when it comes to their planning,” Dr Brown said.
“They are there to get the best performance they possibly can from their athletes, and so what I'm advocating to them, along with many more of my peers around the world, is the importance of a holistic balance for the athletes and how this can relate to and benefit their performance. This balance in their lives really can and should be a priority to achieve performance-based outcomes.” Dr Sue Brown
Dr Brown said the dual responsibilities of being a student and an emerging athlete should be recognised by national sporting federations, particularly for younger athletes who need to be released from secondary school to train, as this could potentially restrict their educational development and attainment where it is not well planned and coordinated.
She said the combination of sporting pursuits alongside education or other career had also been shown to help in coping with adversity, protecting against poor mental health or burnout, and maintaining perspective for athletes.
Dr Brown said one of the main roadblocks for athletes starting a degree was the time commitment demanded by the institution and their sport, often with little flexibility. Coaches or professional clubs might make provisions for their athletes to study or work elsewhere, but this can quickly change if they are injured and have an extra set of unplanned rehabilitation sessions.
Other pressures on athletes include the rescheduling of training sessions or time away to travel and compete, clashes with the athlete’s education commitments, family and friends’ expectations and often, the pressure on athletes to choose one or the other.
“This is why the Bachelor of International Sport Management was designed for online learning – to allow that flexibility for athletes, or anyone else in the industry, to do their degree while still training and competing,” Dr Brown said.
“The commitment and the time that a university expects from athlete-students to complete a degree often doesn’t work with athletes’ training and competition schedules. This degree has been designed with this in mind and is delivered entirely online, so it allows them to work through a clear schedule and maintain engagement with us through the online environment instead of having to be physically in the classroom.
“Some sporting clubs have been very good at managing athlete welfare and supporting their athletes at pursuing other interests. But for others, unfortunately, it is little more than a box-ticking exercise and when it comes to the crunch, once the athlete’s career finishes, they really are on their own. By taking direction in planning your future and taking the journey that the Bachelor of International Sport Management provides is the simple step to turn your passion into a profession while ensuring a backup plan and all the benefits this achieves.”