Leon gets First Class Honours

Leon took the plunge to get back into education, check out his blog about his journey here.

02 Feb Leon gets First Class Honours

Receiving a First Class Honours in my degree is a proud moment and something I had to work hard to achieve.

My experience on the Rugby field has trained me into believing that if you want something bad enough and you are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve your goal, you can achieve very special things. I am living proof that you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, or let other people’s opinions shape your own belief in yourself. In fact, if you are prepared to be one of the hardest working, then you have a chance to choose exactly what path you want to take and achieve your goals – everyone deserves a chance in life.

Having left school at the age of 16 to pursue a career in professional rugby, I certainly thought I had left my studying days behind me. Even after I retired from rugby at the tender age of 30, following successful stints at Leicester Tigers, Gloucester and the odd game for the Barbarians and England, I never thought studying would be back on my agenda.

Fast forward a few more years of working in business and leading different types of commercial teams, I heard that by being a part of the RPA Alumni group I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to go to university as a ‘very’ mature student and pick up where I had left off some many years earlier. I was never very academic at school but I decided to work hard and, purely through naivety, when I saw I ‘only’ needed to score 70% to score a First Class Degree, it sounded very doable. I applied the attitude I had applied to my rugby career and set myself a goal I was committed to achieving – I thought: “surely without any revision I could score at least 50%’, therefore with a bit of dedication and application I could reach at least another 20% needed to secure a First – right?”

I handed my first assignment in and quickly realised why people were originally laughing at me when I confidently and publicly said what I was aiming for, especially when my last 20 years were spent chasing a ball around and field and a rough transition into the business world. I scored a respectful but deeply personal disappointing score of 55, for what I had thought was the best piece of work I could have produced, expecting high 80’s or low 90’s!

After two hard years, I can honestly say that graduating from university is one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced, yet also one of my greatest achievements. I would go as far as to say that working my way up to achieving my First Class Degree when lots of people doubted me, ranks alongside making my full international debut for England some 17 years earlier.

To reach my goal I had to start reading academic journals at 5:30am some mornings before the kids woke up and before I went to work, which reminded me of intense pre-season training regime.  I accepted that this type of hardship had to be endured to ensure the team would achieve the trophies at the end of the season.

I also tacked the modules in the same way as the regular Rugby playing season by chunking down the modules into sections. This meant I identified modules that were likely to be more challenging for me. This can be likened to an international period in a season where a team will lose their best players and will target a set amount of points to ensure they can still finish in the playoffs at the end of the season – in my case, this was my dissertation. I was hopeful that if I could get to the end of the two years with a high enough average grade then my final paper would see me achieve my goal.

This confidence came from the fact that, for my dissertation, I was able to choose my area of personal passion and interest, which for those that know me was an easy decision. I decided to do an evaluation of how employers can enhance the career progression process for elite athletes.

I was unable to use my own 25 years’ experience within rugby so instead used academic research and the personal lows that other athletes had experienced throughout their careers and more specifically when their careers had ended. These findings formed the foundation of my final dissertation. The hardest part was not letting my own biases influence the research. This enabled me to learn a lot more about transition in many different sports, not just rugby, as well as in the military and education sector.

I produced a poster for my dissertation that summarised my work, which includes combining my day job and passion for supporting athletes through their careers and beyond in my current position as CEO of Switch the Play.

I am very fortunate that Switch The Play has a great team of pra-cacademics (practitioners and academics) who both supported and challenged my way of thinking.

Has my learning journey finally finished…absolutely not!