In transition, final accountability falls on the athlete, not the sporting organisation

In transition, final accountability falls on the athlete, not the sporting organisation

Fact – no-one else in the world woke up this morning and thought, “How am I going to get the best result for Greg Mumm today?” Not my wife. Not my Mum or Dad. Not my work colleagues.

The reality is – no-one woke up thinking that for you either!

The illusion for athletes, with fans and timetables, chartered flights, coaches and masseurs, is that no-one wakes up thinking that for them either – but at times it must feel like people do.

Sure, break it down and possibly 3, 4 maybe even 5 or 6 times a day, athletes have support staff focusing that specific moment on getting the best result for that athlete, but no-one wakes up thinking that or holds that thought throughout the day. If Jerry Maguire couldn’t pull it off, no-one can.

Most athletes know this, particularly those that have been around a while, and they accept responsibility for their own destinies, they know that despite all the support they have available to them, ultimately they are accountable for their own development, their own performance.

So why is it that when an athlete comes to transition, there can emerge a question of someone else having a duty of care for that individual’s outcome?

Duty Of Care: The responsibility or the legal obligation of a person or organization to avoid acts or omissions (which can be reasonably foreseen) to be likely to cause harm to others.

For people who have been following some of our articles, this may seem like an about-turn, a contradiction of the tone of previous comments about the role sporting organisations have to play in supporting the athlete. It is not. Instead, it is an investigation into our realisation that all environments have over-laying duties of care, and each is uniquely defined by its own relationship to the person most likely harmed.

Yes – sporting organisations have a duty of care to athletes.

Yes – in my opinion, they should do more and have mandatory programs in place.

But – in my growing experience in this space it is now increasingly hard to argue that any sport has completely ‘omitted’ to provide support to athletes to protect against harm and protect well-being.

What I am increasingly trying to educate athletes on is that the ultimate responsibility and accountability for their transition rests with them. The largest duty of care held, is the one athletes hold for themselves.

Here are some of the ‘acts and omissions’ that I have witnessed in the sporting arena where athletes have failed their Duty of Care to themselves;

Act: Regularly gaming or playing X-Box during training free time, rather than developing a plan B.

Omission: To gain any qualifications prior to retirement.

Act: Listening to Managers who tell them to ‘Just focus on your sport’.

Omission: Not replying to emails.

Act: Dressing inappropriately for business meetings or interviews.

Omission: Not attending networking events whilst still competing.

I know, I am only 37 and I sound like a complaining old man already, but the reality is that each of these behaviours is likely to cause harm to your ability to transition to life after sport. Individually they may not seem life-threatening, but collectively they create a pattern of behaviour, a conditioning which accumulates into a learned helplessness that is a very hard habit to break.

From this, comes the belief that ‘someone else should have done this for me’, when in fact…

…you have had the control and choice to do it for yourself the entire time.

This year has been amazing for increasing the awareness of the challenges of transition for athletes.

Right around the world, athletes have been coming out and talking openly about their struggles with mental health, or finding work and building a new identity. Others have come out and shared their advice around the performance benefits of creating a plan B whilst still competing, leveraging your network and profile, or building businesses or investments. Never has there been more information for athletes to digest, reflect on and integrate into their own lives. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

For sport’s part, our observations have been that they are listening, they are changing their ways and are open to doing this better. They are starting to ‘act’ in a way that meets their duty of care and removes the ‘omission’ of their responsibilities towards athlete welfare.

The ball is now in the athlete’s court – what are athletes doing to help themselves?

Greg Mumm

Greg is the Managing Director of The Final Whistle. He spent 10 years as a professional rugby coach working at all levels from school to international level, including assisting Fiji at both the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups. He co-founded CareerHQ with his father John, a career guidance platform which helps young men and women create their own unique and fulfilling career paths.

Interests: education, leadership, family, business, coaching, values facilitation, human behaviour, rugby.

First Article: February 2016

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