In the first in a series that looks at player development programs around the world, we speak with Dr. Deirdre Lyons from Rugby Players Ireland about helping players transition out of rugby, dealing with retirement and avoiding some of the pitfalls that come with it.
Dr. Deirdre Lyons is reflecting on a successful conference in Dublin.
The Senior Player Development Manager (PDM) with Rugby Players Ireland brought together colleagues from all over the world for a two-day knowledge-sharing event, where many of the same themes came up. The transition from playing to retirement is one of the most common.
The roar of the crowd, the adulation, the sense of purpose and identity, the financial reward and the thrill of winning…all of these fall away quickly when a player leaves the professional game and so it’s frequent for men and women to struggle with this new phase in their lives.
Lyons and her group of PDMs deal with different players but share many of the same stories.
“Retirement is inevitable. It’s one thing all player associations and all players have in common. Eventually the career will end, whether that’s after one year into a professional contract or 12, 13 years later. The key is preparation.
“I think the stats between countries is that between 50 and 70% of players won’t retire on their own terms. Whether that’s through injury, deselection or perhaps by being offered a contract that just isn’t financially viable for them and their families. So preparation is key and that needs to start as soon as a player enters the professional environment.”
It’s a message that Lyons wants more players to hear. The end of a career can come quickly.
“Some of the common issues we’re seeing is that loss of athletic identity. If they’re not a player, who are they?,” she asks, referring to a common discussion point among PDMs.
“While players are still playing, you can help them explore things like their strengths, their transferable skills, their personality and communication styles, maybe some of their interests and passions outside of rugby… and to try and reinforce the message that rugby is something that they do but it is not who they are.”
Player associations urge young players as young as 20 to plan for, potentially, what happens when they’re in their late 30s.
“Unfortunately,” Lyons continues, “you never know when your last game of rugby is going to be and you don’t want to frighten players. So, we try and package it for those younger players by focusing on self-development, self-awareness, and how it can actually improve their rugby.”
In a 25 year career in high-performance, Dr. Lyons (pictured) has seen a lot. Top players come and go and no matter how successful they are, the end of a career can be challenging.
“You see yourself as an athlete, you see yourself as a high performer. It makes you get up in the morning and and go out there. When the game is over, players talk about the very stark reality of being kicked out of the WhatsApp group.
“They’re no longer a member of that team. They are no longer the rugby player. They just don’t know who they are anymore. And in psychological terms, you can talk about self-efficacy; that confidence in their ability to do something really, really well.
PDMs note that players can lose that confidence in themselves and starting at the bottom or midway up the ladder of another career will often result in a loss of confidence, self-worth and self-image.
“A lot of players will talk about a grieving process that happens when rugby finishes but there are many things that a player can do to prepare themselves for when that happens,” adds Lyons.
PDMs focus on education, skills, financial planning and support from family to aid the transition to retirement.
“If you’re at the height of your game, you may be earning quite a lot of money that just doesn’t translate other careers. So financial planning is important.
“But the biggest factor is actually that sense of support from family and community. We would also encourage players while they’re still playing to keep in touch with friends outside of rugby, develop relationships outside of that and being honest with their partners and families on how they’re feeling.”
"When the game is over, players talk about the stark reality of being kicked out of the WhatsApp group. They’re no longer the rugby player."— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) April 5, 2023
As we look at the work of our Player Development Managers, @dlyonsIRUPA highlights the need for players to prepare for life after Rugby 🎥 pic.twitter.com/kiYIVAL1sq
Most of the feelings that players experience from leaving the game are normal and Deirdre Lyons and the PDMs in associations across the world are keen to push the positives around retirement. Now more than ever, player associations are working collaboratively to make sure they all can learn from each other.
“It’s great that the larger associations who’ve been running programs for 10 or 20 years can help the smaller associations or those with less developed personal development programs,” said Lyons.
“There’s no re-inventing the wheel here. If someone has done work on, let’s say, financial planning and they’re willing to share that with the other association so you don’t have to start from scratch, that’s really positive.”
“All associations are different but they still have those underlying pillars – education, career planning, mental health, financial support, so that there is a consistency between the programs but allowing for individual differences.”
Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we look at those pillars of player and personal development and how our associations are helping players make that important step.
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