Why Technological Change Is More Of A Threat To Retiring Athletes Than Normal Employees

Why Technological Change Is More Of A Threat To Retiring Athletes Than Normal Employees

10 years in professional sport is a long time, but 10 years of technological change is an age in a modern employment market.

For athletes who stay abreast of these changes, a world based on possibility will suits athletes’ strengths; for those that don’t, they risk being left behind.

Why technology is a threat to athlete’s future careers

In a recent presentation to high school students, I spoke of the dangers of technology and automation to the future of work. To support my argument I used the popular statistics that 40% of jobs advertised today won’t exist in 15 – 20 years, that 70% of entry level roles for young people will be significantly affected by automation, and only 65% of graduates are employed in full-time work within 4 months of finishing their studies (FYA Future of work report, 2015).

And whilst some students were shocked into paying attention, their adolescent bubble burst briefly by the reality of the modern employment market, I am sure there were a few athletes in the room convinced it wasn’t relevant to them, preferring to dream instead of scoring centuries, winning games, or competing in the Olympics.

The unsettling reality is that the effects of technology will impact both of their long-term careers equally, however, the non-athletes will spend the next 15 – 20 years learning to adapt and prosper in these new times, whilst the singularly-focused athletes will travel a parallel journey in a bubble, only to burst forth into a post-sport world they do not recognise nor are prepared for.

What changes is technology already having on sport and life?

In sport, the pace of technology is evident just as much as anywhere else in life. Hawkeye (UDSC), the visual trajectory-mapping technology used widely in Soccer, Cricket and Tennis to display the path of the ball, was only invented in 2001. Catapult Sport GPS, regarded as the World’s leading GPS sport analytics technology only began in 2006, and goal-line technology was only used for the first time recently 2014 World Cup after FIFA decided to allow computer-assisted decisions in their tournaments.

When you couple this with the rate of change in the non-sport world – according to Business Insider – by 2026 10% of all cars in the US will be driverless vehicles – you start to understand how fast things can change.

In sport, technology is everywhere, and whilst athletes and organisations are quick to adopt it for their immediate performance or entertainment needs, a failure to realise its impacts for future careers could have devastating impacts.

Whilst automation has traditionally been seen as a threat to manual jobs only, software developments and artificial computer intelligence is accelerating its encroachment into traditionally safe white collar industries.

Xero is a perfect example of how an all-in-one software platform can automate previously-skilled roles such as bookkeeping, and as a result, accountants are one of the most at-risk positions from technological advancement.

Hawkeye, being used here in cricket under the Decision Review System (DRS)

How is this relevant to sport?

Despite highly commendable efforts by players’ associations to increase education, and in some cases make it mandatory, education on its own is no longer enough to protect an athlete’s future employability.

My experience has been that athletes do one of two things with education around sport;

  1. Go hard and fast – and complete it all within 3 years before entering elite competition
  2. Slow and steady – pacing their studies out alongside their career, sometimes with as little as one unit per semester.

If we assume that successful athletes will have a career lasting anywhere from 10 – 15 years, then 19-year olds can start and finish a course 7 to 12 years before they’ll use it, or take take 4 times as long as other students to finish, risking the redundancy of some of their learnings before they even finish the course.

So does this mean athletes shouldn’t study – absolutely not. The benefits to their sporting careers and post-sport careers far outweigh the alternatives, as exemplified by the recent results of student athletes in Rio where they outperformed their non-student competitors and teammates (See results here).

So what is the solution?

Well, there are three in fact;

  1. Know what you want to do: This is the most important because without this you will lack the passion and perseverance to do the next two in this list. Don’t stress if you are unsure, because 2 to 3 options are better than 1. No-one knows what the future will bring for sure, so keep your options open.
  2. Do your homework: Research and read/watch everything you can on the areas you’re interested in (Check out these 6 new technology rules on LinkedIn as an example). Having a few options clear in your mind will help with this as you will naturally notice these topics in media and conversations, and be up to date with how technology is affecting these areas – which leads me to the last point.
  3. Find great people to help you: People say sport opens doors, and it does, but you need to be able to articulate which doors you want sport to open for you. Once you know, be prepared to network and talk to people to understand what is changing in the industries you are interested in. If you can find companies to give you experience around your training, even better, or develop mentors that can upskill you to ensure you keep pace with your non-sport competitors.

At The Final Whistle, we are massive believers in the potential for athletes to be model employees in the future, in a world where potential will trump past performance. But for retiring athletes to be in with an equal chance, they need to play the game and keep up with the technology as it changes.

To find out other ways to prepare for life after sport, follow us on social media.

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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