Kieron Achara MBE
- Written by Catherine Rees
Scottish born Kieron Achara MBE, 38, is the former Captain for both the Scottish and Great Britain Basketball Teams. The youngest player ever to play for Scotland’s national team, featuring in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA Europe Promotion Cup), he made his debut for the Great Britain team in 2008 - shortly before turning professional.
Kieron was a part of the British Basketball team which took part in the London 2012 Olympics, and also the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Throughout his career he played for teams across Europe. Since retiring from professional sport in 2019, he’s a regular pundit on Sky Sports, a Sports Development Executive and an Associate of Switch the Play.
“I read something once that said athletes are the only people who die twice in life – and that stuck with me. For as much as I planned and prepared for leaving my professional sporting career, it was difficult to accept my new identity,” Kieron confided.
“Being an athlete is held in high regard – it definitely has the wow factor about it. When I decided to leave professional sport, I lost this status. And I found myself having to constantly remind myself that I’m not just ‘Kieron the basketball player’. Knowing your worth as more than just an athlete definitely helps with the transition phase.”
The former professional basketballer said he first started thinking about his life after sport “right before he signed his first professional” contract to Fortitudo Bologna in Italy.
“I’d just finished my scholarship at Duquesne University in the United States where I studied a Management and Marketing degree. Being from Scotland, where basketball is still a minority sport, I never really believed the dream that basketball could be my life.
“The next time I seriously thought about transitioning out of the sport was a few seasons before I actually retired. I began worrying about it. It was like something clicked in my mind and I realised my basketball career wasn’t going to last forever. Insecurities started to creep in. I’d noticed a drop in my form and I’d let comments on social media get to me.
“It was a stroke of luck that I came across FIBA’s Timeout Programme which took 60 professional basketballers back to the classroom to help them prepare for their life after sport. That’s when I studied for my Masters degree. I did this alongside playing professionally for another two seasons.
“Some athletes might put off exploring education whilst they're still playing at a professional level, perhaps they think it’s a distraction. But for me it was exactly what I needed. It also made me a better player.
As I started to have more success in the classroom, it gave me more confidence on the court. I found that I wasn’t so scared of leaving my sport. The fear of leaving and not knowing what to do next started to ease.
“FIBA enabled me to get a Masters in my 30’s. But I know that for many on the programme it was their first entry in further education. It was a real eye opener. For many of my European teammates, I know a lot were pulled away from education at just 14 to sign contacts and live the basketballers dream – so wouldn’t have an education to fall back on.”
But before he started preparing to transition out of professional basketball, Kieron admitted that thinking about what he could offer an employer was “the scariest thing”.
“Having fears, imposter syndrome, feeling inadequate is so normal. Everyone experiences it. You’ve been told for so many years that you’re amazing at your sport – so it’s hard to think about being successful at anything else. But you need to know that your life can still be amazing and successful outside of sport – just don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“I realised my core skills after a workshop I did with Switch the Play. We often take for granted that we’re exceptional team players and communicators. We also have a strong mindset and impeccable time management skills – especially as speed and precision is often the difference between winning and losing. We have a strong belief in ourselves and are resilient - this may just need tweaking a little to remind ourselves that we can apply this to something else outside of sport.
“My advice to any athlete is to keep developing yourself. Not necessarily just through your sport or traditional education routes – but even things like reading a book or taking an online course. All these things will enhance your sport. All the top athletes you see are constantly challenging themselves – and not just on the court. Invest in yourself - and don’t expect anyone else to invest in you. You need to do this for you, and organisations like Switch the Play are there to help if you need them.”