In our final article looking at our player development programs around the world, we speak with Hilana Claassens, Personal Development Manager (PDM) with South African Players Association, My Players.
“I always say I have no idea how I ended up here because if it comes to things on the rugby field, I don’t know much!”, jokes Hilana Claassens.
Psychologist and Personal Development Manager (PDM) to South African players, Claassens had a corporate background and had no real aspirations to work in sport, but her interest was piqued when she saw a PDM role advertised with My Players, which focused on issues away from the field.
“I’m a psychologist, so obviously people are my specialty and when I saw the job and that the focus was off the field, I was immediately interested”, says Claassens.
“I didn’t think I’d specialize in sports or work in sport but yeah, this has just been a breath of fresh air.”
Claassens soon discovered that a PDM has to make a good connection with the player, if her messages are to land.
“To make that connection is not easy. I think a good PDM is someone who’s able to create an environment where it’s very safe for a player to just be himself or herself, have no expectations, no masks. Basically, you can just come as you are and meet someone where they’re at.
“It’s being able to create that trust and to create that relationship to start building with them…finding out where they wanna go and helping them in the process, because the journey is so different for everyone.”
One of the messages Claassens likes to promote is the fact that no player will play the game forever and that it’s important to appreciate what you have right here, right now.
“I suppose it takes time away from the game sometimes to appreciate that you can’t play forever,” she says.
“Rugby won’t be your lifestyle forever. I think it’s something that rugby players struggle with, but I also think it’s something we struggle with as human beings. I think we almost have ‘destination addiction’. We wanna move from one thing to the other.
“We are so caught up in the busyness of it all, that we forget to just be where we at. I think it’s very important to be present. I always tell the guys that I work with, remember, if you’re not present and enjoying where we are, we struggle to also reach a state of flow.”
Claassens urges players to use certain techniques to help this.
“It’s important to take time, to reflect, to be present, to be where you are, to appreciate where you are. Yes, some might feel that it takes away from the game and from the focus, but I don’t believe it does. I think it actually adds to that.
“There’s lots of gratitude exercises you can do like journaling and reflection exercises to just keep you grateful and present and enables you to actually get to that status of flow.
The Next Chapter
The transition out of rugby is a major discussion topic and PDMs around the world stress the need for players at every stage to turn their thoughts to what they will do after leaving the game.
“I always say it’s not about life after rugby, it’s about life during rugby, because if you focus on life during rugby, your life after rugby will be sorted. But when we focus on life after retiring from the game, that’s way too late. You can’t start the moment your career ends.
“And yes, the first few months are usually a honeymoon phase and there’s less stress and lots of wonderful things. Until you realize what is happening, you’re not sorted. In South Africa, it’s sometimes really hard to find a job. We have a tough job market.
“So you need to get in somewhere to support yourself financially, (to avoid) losing your identity, having no sense of belonging; there’s always a lot more we can do. I think we offer a lot already to help players prepare for the transition. However, I don’t think they ever get to that point where they’re a hundred percent prepared… like many of us.”
Claassens finishes with some wise words to today’s players.
“Appreciate that responsibility. There’s a lot to be thankful for.”
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