Not sure what you want to do? Fancy working abroad? Gap years can provide life-changing experiences, as Rob Cook, now Youth Sport Manager at Nottingham Trent University, explains…
“I always knew I wanted to work in sport. I also knew I wanted to go to Loughborough University, where I did a lot of volunteering in sport. I ended up being on the students’ Union Executive and helped set up sports projects called Sports Action, which was a range of student-led projects involving sports development, so coaching in schools, for example. I also got involved with a number of charities in terms of sports development.
“I graduated from Loughborough University from the sports science department in 2005 and began my career first with a graduate scheme, then working with a local authority sports department unit as a sports development officer, working in place of someone who was on maternity leave. I wanted some business experience before going into sport, but quickly decided that being involved in sport was what I really wanted to do. From there, I went to work for a County Sports Partnership, which was going through a state of change in terms of the way it was funded at the time.
“I had always wanted to work overseas and when the County Sports partnerships were restructured, I took that as an opportunity to look abroad and broaden my horizons. I had family who had gone over to work in Singapore, so that seemed an obvious option as a starting place.
“I got to travel a lot and meet some very executive people. I went to Japan to work on a project that was being hosted across Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore which involved meeting the President of the Singapore Rugby football union and others. I also travelled around a bit while I was there, seeing as much of Asia as I could, so Malaysia, Vietnam… which was brilliant.”
“I explored whether there were any roles in Singapore and sent my cv around. One agency said they had two potential roles lined up for me, but said that if I wanted to be interviewed I would need to pay for the air fare myself. I decided I had to to step out and take a chance. It was a financial risk, but I felt that even if I missed out, the interviews would be good experience. I felt the organisations in question had shown interest in what I had to offer, so it was worth taking that chance. Sometimes to do what you really want to do you have to take that risk.
“One of the roles involved working for a national sports association to help them develop their sports. The other involved supporting the development of major sports event strategy and to bring major sports events to Singapore and help run them. Both jobs were fantastic opportunities, although one suited my skill set much more than the other. I went out there and did some research on the Singapore Sports Council and other major events to see how they did things. I checked out websites, things like that. It turned out they had an opening to be senior manager when it came to major event strategy, a role involving helping develop Singapore’s strategy for the next 15 years. It was a tremendous opportunity and while I was thrown straight into the deep end, I don’t feel I would have had a similar chance in this country at that age, simply because of the level of competition we have here. I also think having that experience really helped me out when it came to other jobs further down the line. Experienced difficult situations, I now feel I can deal with anything thrown at me over here.
“In going to Singapore, it totally opened my eyes to a new culture. It was really difficult to begin with. You’re not just learning about culture but also communication. For example, I learned quite quickly that people could be abrupt and to the point. The hours were totally different, too, so there was a lot to get used to.
“I got to travel a lot and meet some very executive people. I went to Japan to work on a project that was being hosted across Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore which involved meeting the President of the Singapore Rugby football union and others. I also travelled around a bit while I was there, seeing as much of Asia as I could, so Malaysia, Vietnam… which was brilliant.
“My Singapore experience has undoubtedly helped me. I beat 108 other applicants to the job I have now, and I think my experience working at the very first Asian Games helped give me the edge. I was also Director of Elite Management for the Singapore Marathon, which involved looking after athletes from around the world and looking after them – those events put me in good stead. Things like that help me stand out from everyone else. I certainly don’t regret the experience, that’s for sure!
Just do it!
Here are Rob’s top tips to help you find the right opportunity
- You need to show total commitment to sports development. Get out there and do as much volunteering – and to as high a level as possible – as you can. You need diversity.
- Use your university to do as much volunteering and develop your career skills as you can. There are a lot of core programmes and these projects will help you in the workplace, no question.
- The more pyou can experience, the more you’ll learn culturally, and those experiences will only ever help you later in life as you embark on your career.
- Be prepared to take a risk.
Gap-year opportunities are wide-ranging. Here are five active options…
Adventure/Sports – PGL Travel
Paid work opportunities at children’s activity and educational centres in the UK, France and Spain.
Skiing and Snowboarding – Peak Leaders
Gain an internationally recognised instructor qualification or take an improver camp in New Zealand, Europe, Canada or Argentina
Scuba Diving – Dive the Gap
Three weeks to six months. Go professional, teach and lead. All seasons in Egypt.
Watersports Instructor – Base Camp Group
Courses 2 – 11 weeks in Scuba, Surfing, Kitesurfing, Waterskiing
Sports coaching – Sporting Opportunities
Sports coaching volunteer projects in Africa, Asia and South America.