My journey so far...
Current IBM Graduate Consultant
Former clubs: Nottingham Forest, Ilkeston Town FC
Scholarship athlete, The University of Birmingham
Can you give a brief timeline of your career so far within elite level sport.
I was always a player who stood out at school and at local club level, and as a schoolboy, I had my first taste of being involved in a professional club, with extended trials at both Aston Villa and Notts County FC. Unfortunately things didn’t work out at either club, but shortly after I signed a contract at Nottingham Forest, where I spent 4 years. I was then released during a big change in the football club's hierachy and management staff.
Following this I had brief spells at Sheffield United, Derby County and Burton Albion, but I made the decision to join non-league club Ikeston Town where I signed for two years, on top of signing as a scholarship athlete for the University of Birmingham, studying towards a degree in International Business with Spanish whilst training and competing full time.
How did you first get involved in the sport? And when did the opportunity come to join a professional club?
I come from a family who love football, so I became involved at a very young age, as most boys do, starting in local football. Then as I got older I started playing more competitively. Watching my older brother play at Nottingham Forest meant I was always in and around the environment also, as he went through the club's academy set up. Also, my mums brother was also a professional in Scotland, namely playing for Partik Thistle. So like I said, football runs in the family. Then as mentioned above, I had a number of trials which came on the back of a man of the match performance at a National Schools final at Doncaster Rover’s ground, where I must have impressed a few scouts! So it was following this, when my time at professional football club's began. Funnily enough though, I didn’t think I had a good game that day!
To date, what have been your biggest sporting achievements?
Signing my first contract with Nottingham Forest was a big deal for me. I am a Nottingham boy, my older brother had been with the club for a number of years, and the club was round the corner from where I grew up, so it was a special feeling. Being part of England Schools training camps at a young age were also experiences I am proud of. Also, it was my time at Ilkeston Town where I experienced some moments I am proud of. At a young age I was given the opportunity to get first team experience against the likes of Chelsea, Leicester City and Blackpool during pre-season. This I think came down to a lot of my hard work and commitment over the off-season – So I came in to that season in great shape, which really paid off.
How do you manage elite sport, with education and work?
It is something that I’ve been used to from a young age. I managed a full time football scholarship alongside A-level study which was very tough/demanding, but it became the norm, and I have been able to learn how to manage different workloads. I’ve learnt that the key is organisation, and planning to make sure I am on top of everything, to ensure I am being equally successful in all areas. This gives me time to prepare and focus on education, and elite sport combined. It is a huge commitment, but I enjoy the responsibility and being able to excel within elite sport continues to motivate me.
There are times when it is extremely tough though. As part of my degree for example, I had a 12 month work placement, which is effectively a full time job during my degree in my third year of study. So I had to make up a lot of time to research and apply for positions, and go through assessment and selection processes during term time. This being on top of normal football and education deadlines, means the focus is to be as productive as possible and manage my time effectively every day.
Elite level sport creates skills, competencies and behaviours that businesses strive for in their employees. What do you think your time growing up within elite sport has given you that you are now applying at university/work?
First and foremost – You are brought up within a culture of constantly striving for improvement. Training every day means you always have to review your progress and look at where things are going well and where you need to improve in order to gain a spot in the starting 11, or maintain your spot. Football and team sport is unique in that way. You are a team yes – but there is always competition within the team. This competition for places means you can never be satisfied with your performance, and always need to look at how you can improve.
It’s a tough thing to do – watch yourself back in games and analyse your mistakes in front of your managers and teammates, but in the long run it pays off. It teaches you to be honest with yourself, take responsibility and be comfortable within yourself to deal with negative feedback and mistakes. This now means outside of sport, I follow this same approach. I always make sure that whatever I do is the best it can be, and I always am proactive in getting feedback on previous work to see how I can improve in the future. Elite sport has made me become my own biggest critic.
Also, I think you become a natural in things like leadership, not being phased by competition, and the ability to deal with pressure. Being under constant scrutiny and pressure to perform by fans, teammates and coaches, forces you in to pressure situations, and you have to learn to deal with that, and make effective decisions. So now when it comes to work or academic pressures, I feel very confident and comfortable dealing with them, and I now perform better under pressure as it is an added motivation to perform and challenge myself.
Of course also, you learn how to work effectively in teams and build a team spirit which can be taken in to any walk of life.
What career help is currently on offer for scholarship athletes at university?
The high performance centre, which is the base of the High Performance Centre Team. This is made up of several staff who provide an excellent network and support function for any advice you need. They are ex scholarship athletes themselves, so they provide great advice on topics such as nutrition, physiotherapy, strength and conditioning and psychology etc. Also as a scholarship athlete, I get funding towards coaching badges and professional qualifications, which is great for anyone who wants to go down the coaching route after they graduate.
There is a real emphasis on leadership and team building amongst scholars and within the group at The University of Birmingham, we are encouraged to take lead within our clubs and within our study’s. It was this support and environment, that pushed me towards taking on the football club captaincy.
Similar to many elite/professional sport groups, we often go away on team building trips which help you learn how to transfer many skills within sport, into education and work. These trips have a real focus also on building on your weaknesses, which I don’t think many other students get the opportunity or access to.
How has The-Transition-Phase helped you on your current journey?
They have been fantastic. From the start, they gave me encouragement and comfort during a tough stage in my career, when trying to combine elite sport with education and work, but also when thinking about my long term professional career. They helped me identify that my background and experiences within professional sporting environments can be a real source of value. When you drop out of a professional club, you always look at the disappointments and failures, but instead, they really helped me look at my experiences as a positive. My advisor had been through very similar experiences to me, so the advice was spot on.
One of the big things that The-Transition-Phase were able to do, was help me realise my competencies and behaviours from sport, and how they can be transferred into work and education. They taught me how to identify them, and talk about them in a way that people from education and business could understand. They helped me significantly through efforts to secure a placement as part of my degree, by structuring my CV, advising on what types of roles/companies to apply for and they managed the way I planned and prepared for assessment centres and interviews. Always on the end of a phone call, email or face-to-face, which was a massive help during a challenging time. I consequently went in to interviews and assessment centres with confidence and feeling fully prepared. They supported me to harness my strengths gained from sport and highlight these during interview processes to show I have something different to offer, against other strong candidates with very high academic and work related backgrounds.
Finally, they gave me a real focus. They knew what employers would look for, and what employers would like about my background, which allowed me to really channel my efforts towards what is relevant. This is something I have now been able to take in to all walks of life.
What advice would you give to other students who are currently involved in elite sport?
Don’t think about your set-backs as disappointments, but instead think of them as key learning, and positive experiences. Only then can you think about making the most of these, and taking them on in to other walks of life. Remember that not many people will have had the experiences within elite sport that you have, so use this to your advantage. Take what you learn in sport, and understand how to apply them in to your education, work or personal life. This I think is what sets successful people apart.
Also, be open to a change. You may not make the grade at one club, or in a sport as you pursue to be in the best 1%, but not getting there doesn’t mean you’re a failure – Yes it’s disappointing at the time, but you can realise how valuable the experience is, because I am learning that the key traits and behaviours elite athletes and sportsman build, are what top recruiters are trying to bring into their companies and look for.
Tell us a little bit about what is it that you are currently doing?
I had the opportunity to continue with Ilkeston Town, but it meant jeopordising my education. It was a tough decision, but I have always been bright, and I wanted to make sure I built a good background in education, to give myself the best chance growing up, but I also wanted to continue playing at a good level.
I was offered a number of football scholarships in America, but also at The University of Birmingham. I was impressed by their elite academic and sporting programme, so I joined in 2014 on a Business and Language (Spanish) degree. As a scholarship athlete, my time isn't like most other university students, as I am training and competing full time, on top of my studies.