Please note: the views expressed in this interview are those of the person interviewed and not necessarily those of The Final Whistle. This article has been edited since first being published.
A Commerce/Law graduate from The University of Sydney (2016), Nina received First Class Honours (Commerce) in 2014. Within her Honours research she combined her dual passions; business and sport, to explore how best elite athletes can utilise personal branding to build a corporate career.
Upon receiving the True North Scholarship for Women in 2015, Nina will begin at Bain & Company in 2017. Throughout her time as a Business School and Elite Athlete Program (EAP) Scholarship holder, Nina represented the Australia ‘A’ hockey team, NSW Arrows Team, NSWIS Hockey Program and captained both the winning NSW and Australian (The Jillaroos) U/21 team. In 2013 Nina competed at the Junior World Cup while she was awarded the Vice Chancellors Scholarship at The University of Sydney.
After competing in the Junior World Cup and Australian Hockey League in 2013, Nina elected to retire and pursue her studies at The University Sydney.
What skills did you learn from your sport that have transferred to your post-sporting career?
The skills athletes accumulate throughout their sporting career are incredibly valuable in the eyes of potential employers. Whether this be time management, communication, leadership, determination, resilience, teamwork, perseverance, work ethic, dedication or simply the ability to be coached and receive constructive criticism, any athlete can bring up a tangible example of when they have demonstrated one of these traits or skills. For example, the perseverance and resilience you showed that time you missed out on selection into a State or National team, only to get back onto the training field within the hour.
For me personally, the greatest skills I acquired from sport are people management and the ability to strive for excellence.
People management: In any sporting environment you must learn how to manage different personalities and conflict situations, whether that be with teammates or coaches. It really is an unofficial people management degree. These personal skills are of utmost value in any career path.
Ability to strive for excellence: Any athlete knows what it takes to be the best in a high-performance environment. You know what excellence looks like and you know what it takes. Your ability to strive for excellence outside of sport in another career pursuit is what will make you, not just an employee, but the CEO.
What has worked best for you during your retirement, what's had the biggest positive effect on your life?
Being busy. I had to throw myself into any opportunity that came my way. At the time that was my thesis, being a Business School Ambassador, starting a mentoring program, coaching tennis, becoming President of a Society at University as well as continuing to play hockey at a Club level. If I got asked to speak at an event, I said yes. If I got asked to volunteer my time to help the EAP, I said yes.
Saying yes to these opportunities had the biggest effect on my life; they led me to learn about the corporate world and what career opportunities were actually out there. They led me to undertake an Internship in Consulting and apply for the True North Scholarship at Bain & Company. They led me to believe that everything I had learned and acquired in sport was truly unique and my differentiator.
What have you found most difficult about retirement?
Lacking a purpose and an overarching goal and the constant targets that are set for you and that you set for yourself.
As an athlete you are so accustomed to the never-ending benchmarks, selections and competitions. Each training session has purpose. Each week has a goal. And each month has a result. I found it really difficult not having the measurable results, achievements and constant feedback on my progress.
Do you think it is possible to build identity outside of sport whilst you're still playing? If so, how?
I am a big believer of it, and a big believer that it is possible, whether that is pursuing a side project, building an online business or completing your education. By pursuing and partaking in a world outside of sport you are building a separate identity to the one you have attained on the sporting field. While you may still be referred to as “the hockey girl” (as I was at USYD), by having those other hobbies, pursuits or activities, you have built your identity to include non-sporting traits and capabilities. And then “the hockey girl” simply becomes your differentiator.
However in saying that, an athlete’s ability to build an identity outside of sport is contingent on the sporting organisation they are a part of. As highlighted in an incredibly honest and refreshing piece that emerged from Simon Orchard, an Australian Kookaburra, who is competing in a full-time hockey program (camouflaged as a ‘semi-professional’ sport);
“The grind of another Olympic cycle was beginning to wear. I was wondering what else was out there. Starting to begrudge the program for not allowing me to chase my dreams away from the pitch, while still committing on it. I wanted a life outside of hockey, and it wasn’t forthcoming.”
There is a responsibility on the sporting organisation to allow and support your endeavours to build an identity outside of sport. Not only does it make happier athletes (and I’m sure many other athletes would attest) it makes for better performing athletes on the sporting field.
What are you doing now and what sort of athletes do you think would be suited to your role or industry?
After finishing my Commerce/Law degree at the end of 2016, I made the decision to press ‘pause’ on my full-time, corporate opportunity at the consulting firm Bain & Company.
In 2016, alongside uni and other jobs, my co-founder Adriana and I had been working on ENID, our start-up dedicated to empowering girls’ futures. We know the significant challenges women still face – globally and in Australia. Whether that is the gender pay gap or being called “bossy” when your male classmate is called a “leader”, there is a long way to go before true equality can exist.
ENID is an online platform and school presentation program dedicated to empowering girls to pursue the career and future they desire; showing them what opportunities are out there and giving them the skills, mindsets, confidence, self-belief, role models and support networks to achieve them. You can follow our journey on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Online. If you want to get involved contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Athletes that like hard work, constant challenges, working in all different aspects of a business (e.g., from finance to marketing), meeting all different kinds of people, being innovative, controlling their own time and solving problems in a creative way are suited to the ‘start-up’ world.
Athletes that like teamwork, collaborating with like-minded people, hard work, constant feedback, travelling for work, making an impact and being in a busy, exciting work environment are suited to consulting.
Can you recommend any books to read that helped you during your career or your transition?
No. My advice is to talk to anyone and everyone, from CEOs to physios. Ask questions and seek advice; discover what careers and opportunities are out there and figure out whether you’re suited to it.
People love to pass on advice, people love to talk about their experiences. Utilise that to help you make the transition.