It was a real privilege to be invited to speak at Rugby Expo 2016, at the impressive Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Not least because I have always felt I was destined to perform on the big stage in my hometown but more importantly, I was there to talk about the current and hugely important topic of 'Duty of Care' for professional athletes. Switch the Play is a Social Enterprise founded on the core principles of assisting athletes in fulfilling their potential, through and beyond sport. Having a platform to talk so openly about life after sport with industry experts in an area that I know so well was an opportunity to relish.
Throughout the past 12 months, we have often posed the question to our guests and clients, who's responsibility is it to assist athletes with their transition at every age and stage of their journey? Many options are always thrown into the air, such as the last club they played for, the Governing Body, the family, the athlete themselves, the agent and so on. The answers are usually consistent in that it is 'all of the above' and in a collaborative way if we are to tackle the issues that are far too often being reported.
At Rugby Expo this year, the compulsory annual rugby agent's seminar took place not only on the same day, in the same venue, but also immediately prior to the Switch the Play masterclass around how better to assist rugby players with progression planning. It was like the opportunity for an agent to demonstrate to their clients how high they prioritise this topic was presented on a plate. You might be excused for thinking that it was a 'no brainer' and might even congratulate the Rugby Expo organisers for the foresight and for providing the opportunity for agents and intermediaries to demonstrate something that differentiates them from the crowd and committing to take the transition of players 'in their care' seriously. However, rather than point the finger or name and shame which is so easy to do, instead I will simply ask the question; how many of the 120 agents that were present, do you think would be an acceptable number to venture next door to find out more? The answer may be highlighted within the much-anticipated government Duty of Care review, headed up by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, which will be released shortly.
We are confident from our own research that it's certainly not just rugby where long-term athlete responsibility is lower down on people's priority lists. Understanding this, I urge athletes from all sports to take the responsibility into your own hands and understand that no one will have your best interest at heart better than yourself. Regardless of the sport, our research has delivered some consistent results when asking retired athletes to complete their own career Change Curve from their own journey. How many of you can relate to parts of my own personal journey?
We were extremely pleased to have the support of, and to hear the views of Richard Bryan from the RPA, Ben Woods, former Leicester rugby player and now rugby agent, and Chris Bell, former Wasps rugby player and now Wasps Head of Off-Field Player Development. They offered great insights into what challenges the modern-day player faces and what each are doing to play their part in supporting them. This is an area that Switch the Play is passionate about trying to help resolve and we are fully aware there is not an overnight solution, nor one solved by a single organisation alone. With the proactive support that some clubs have shown, coupled with the enthusiasm of some current players reinforces our thoughts and focusses our ambitions to turn those minorities that have approached us, into the majority, as we move forward.
Partnering with Rugby Expo enabled us to deliver an overview of some of the interactive masterclasses we have delivered and allowed us to showcase our impressive list of best in class 'Pracademics' (Practitioners & Academics) that allow us to have such a wide outreach. We were also able to launch our new Athlete Journey which has been developed for the athlete by the athlete.
We are excited about what the future holds and how through our holistic view and the help of passionate people, we can work with the system and help reshape it keeping the athlete as the beneficiary. We are particularly keen to meet stakeholders that share our passion and enthusiasm for developing the next generation of sporting heroes, whilst helping the forgotten majority re-establish themselves too. If you would like to find out more about the work we do and help us drive this important agenda, or if we can help you or someone you may know, then please click here. Visit us at www.switchtheplay.com and follow us on Twitter @Switch_the_Play We look forward to hearing from you and welcoming you to one of our events in the near future.
Director - Switch the Play
Author - 'Life After Sport'
Former International Rugby Player