12 Mar Switch the Play Director Leon Lloyd on Preparing for the Inevitable
It was a real privilege to be invited up to Leeds recently to discuss all things Yorkshire Carnegie and Leeds Rhinos. An occasion made even more special by the presence of Jonathan Pendlebury, who I’d last seen 9 years earlier when we were team mates at Gloucester. Our paths have taken very different directions since hanging up our boots but it’s great that rugby and the welfare of the next generation has brought us back together.
I was invited to do a short masterclass around a typical career journey for a professional rugby player and what can be done to maximise opportunities and develop yourself as a person away from the pitch. Having to follow Ben Woods, former Falcons, Tigers and England Saxons player, and now successful rugby agent was a challenge! But I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged the young audience were and by the mature questions that were asked at the end. We then presented to the parents of the young academy players. As I listened to the questions that Ben was fielding from the mums and dads I realised how little parents knew about the role of agents and what they can do for their children and why some get it so wrong.
If Ben’s session was seen as enlightening, my session would have been quite sobering and thought provoking for the older audience. I was conscious of revealing the scary statistics around the successful transition from young academy player to successful full time, high-earning professional. The last thing I wanted was to deter any player or parent from following their dreams. I feel very lucky to have had a 14 year career playing with and against some of the best in the world (and winning the odd trophy here and there too!)
Things have moved forward so much since my days as a young skinny 17 year old kid. This year marks 20 years of professional rugby and with that comes the ability to reflect and learn from those that laced their boots before them. Whilst the prize and the spoils are far greater than in 1996, the need to prepare and develop as young men as well as athletes is more important than ever. Academy coaches like Ben Lazenby and JP are leading the field when it comes to providing their players with opportunities beyond sport. But the driving force in all of this is the player, and recognising there is a responsibility to plan ahead. One thing I did guarantee to every players and parent in the room that day was one day the dream will end and a ‘normal’ job will beckon. I hope they have taken the necessary steps to prepare for it.