- Written by Ben Croucher
It’s not easy to eliminate risk from sport. Be it risking defeat or injury on the field or risking relationships, careers and futures off it, elite sportspeople tread the precipice of risk on a daily basis, undertaking hundreds of hours of training to make those split second decisions that risk losing everything, and risk gaining it all.
But do professional sportspeople have to risk their career prospects in favour of their shot at the big time? Or can you have both?
Emily Scarratt risked playing in a girls under-18 rugby team when she was only 12. She risked turning down a U.S college basketball scholarship. She risked a steady job to become one of the first female players in England to turn professional. Calculated risks that are paying off.
“It was a difficult transition initially just because of the lifestyle change,” says the 26-year-old.
“It was amazing to be the first female players in the country to have that opportunity but it was also slightly scary not knowing the length of the programme.
“We also had to qualify for an Olympics games all within the first year when we were still finding our feet.”
Whilst most professional sportspeople have only known the sporting environment, Scarratt, along with her teammates, had little option but to plan a career outside rugby. With the RFU, England rugby’s governing body, only turning the women’s team professional in 2015, players already had livelihoods.
Scarratt worked as a PE assistant in Birmingham whilst playing elite rugby for Lichfield and England, having graduated from Leeds Beckett University with a degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences in 2011.
“Often guys get professional contracts before they have had the opportunity to go onto further or higher education,” she explains.
“It is important to have a good education behind you, whether that be qualifications or learning important trade skills.”
As amateurs, England, featuring Scarratt, reached the final of the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup. They lost 13-10 to New Zealand but recovered to lift the trophy in 2014. Scarratt starred in the 21-10 victory over Canada, scoring 16 points.
An ultimately successful vocation, but one that risked life away from rugby suffering.
“It was inevitably difficult,” Scarratt continues. “ It was all we knew.
“It meant other aspects of life had to take a back seat as there physically wasn’t time for everything.
“I would consider returning once I have finished playing rugby.”
Scarratt admits that moment is still a while off yet, insisting she wants to keep playing ‘as long as I am able and enjoying it.’
But who controls the career of an elite sportsperson? Is it the coach who controls their training regimes and picks the team? Is it the owners who control their wages and whether or not they’ll be bought or sold or ultimately discarded? Is it fate, where a career ending injury could be just around the corner?
Or does the sportsperson control their own career – and the life they lead after it? Can they take decisions along the way to wrestle back control?
“I think they can do,” she continues “The players have to be prepared to help themselves and engage.
“I think it’s difficult when the player doesn’t have a clear idea of where they want to go post rugby.
“We had to get a career before we had the opportunity to go professional.
“I have been to university and worked in schools. Whether this is what I want to do long term, I’m still not sure.”
Whilst the eventual path may not be clear for Scarratt or many sportspeople, the steps taken along the way can alleviate much of the risk.
It’s not just about a degree or a piece of paper with a qualification on either. It’s about picking up skills in the sporting environment that can transfer outside.
“I picked up organisational skills, working as part of a team and leadership qualities,” she concludes.
“I want to continue to improve and get better.”
That final lesson was shown on the turfs of Rio 2016 and will be applied in the workplaces of the future.