The career of an athlete can be short. Here, GB diver Sarah Barrow reveals what it’s like trying to find a job when the competitive career comes to an end….
Time to have some fun!
I made the decision to retire in Rio and I was keen to have a break afterwards. I had had a full on year, so I was looking forward to going out with my friends, going out for meals, saying ‘yes’ to things and going to weddings… all the things I was unable to do when I was training as an athlete!
Ready for the next challenge
As an athlete you’re used to routines and while it has been nice to have a break, I’m ready to into full-time work and get into a project. It sounds great having a load of time off, but after a while you realize everyone else is working!
I’ve been keen to look into what sort of career I might want to do. The English Institute of Sport helps funded athletes with this by providing you with a lifestyle manager, and she’s been helping me for about three years. I’ve done a few bits of work experience, so it’s about building up my CV and looking at potential jobs, and also networking and just finding out what I do and don’t enjoy doing. These things sound simple, but when you’ve been competing as an athlete your whole life, it’s all new. For example, I’d never had to do a cover letter before! Seems funny, but I never had to do it.
Staying in sport
I’ve been looking to get involved in events or participation in sport. I’ve also been doing a Masters in sports journalism, so I’ve also been looking into doing some work for magazines. I enjoy sport, and not just diving.,. I enjoy watching all sports and hopefully that will open up more opportunities.
“These things sound simple, but when you’ve been competing as an athlete your whole life, it’s all new. For example, I’d never had to do a cover letter before!”
Making the transition
I started thinking about the next stage of my working life in 2012, even as far back as 2008. Back then, I did a massage course, which taught me that that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I’ve been trying to dip my toe into journalism, too, which has taught me that I prefer magazines over other print options, such as newspapers. I’ve tried PR, I’ve worked at Sky Sports… I’ve done a presenters course and I’m about to do a commentary course. I think you have to try all these things to find out if you like them. I’ve been lucky to have been involved with diving for so long, to have done something I’ve enjoyed for so many years, but the challenge is now finding something I like in this next stage of my career.
Retiring young is hard!
The transition from elite sport, which is a bubble, to normal work is really hard. I notice now one of the weirdest things is that I go whole days without speaking to anyone. I might be working on my masters at home, and of course my friends are at work. So there might be days where I get to the end of the working day and I’ve not spoken to anyone! Compared to when I was diving, where I would have been in the pool early on and gone in again in the afternoon with my peers and having fun. So it has been a big change. The fitness side is different too. I was so used to having an organised day around my regime, whereas now I’m just attending gym classes. I don’t miss the diving, I just miss being involved in everything around it.
Chicken and egg
I went to a careers fair for athletes’ either still in their sport or those who, like me, who are transitioning. That was really helpful because it enabled me to meet many people in the same boat. It’s weird. I’m 27 and I’m told my CV is lacking certain skills. However, until now, my ‘work’ has been training for diving… that’s my experience, so it’s hard to get the skills you need. Athletes are known as hard workers, and there are a lot skills that can be applied to the workplace but it’s a chicken and egg situation: it’s hard to get skills when you’re training, but you need skills to be able to land a job when you’re not competing any more.
It’s also difficult finding a job that meets your salary expectations. I’m looking for work and I’m 27, and maybe looking to move to London, which means that those salaries that might suit people aged 21 aren’t ideal. I was lucky to have funding as a diver too, so it’s hard to find jobs that can match that, particular roles that don’t require a lot of experience.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation: it’s hard to get skills when you’re training, but you need skills to be able to land a job when you’re not competing any more.”
Highs and lows
The highlight of my diving career was becoming European champion in 2014. It was a tough year of injuries and the only reason I went at all was because my parents had bought tickets to watch. I also won a bronze alongside Tonia [Couch, her synchronized diving partner] in 2012, which was the first time a British pair had won a medal at that level. There were also many lows, mainly because of injury.
Proud to have been an Olympian
When I went to the World Cup in March, I was taken out of the GB synchro team. At that point I was contemplating giving up on diving, but my coach encouraged to keep going, and I won the trials that enabled me to go to Rio. To achieve that off my own back was great, and even though I didn’t do as well as I wanted in Brazil, it was great to be there. Being part of Team GB at an Olympics… it’s unlike anything else. You get to meet know so many people.