Best-selling author and former professional rugby player Ben Mercer has delivered an absorbing and inspiring session to student athletes at Hartpury highlighting the benefits of following a dual career pathway.
Ben discussed the motivations for writing his book Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional Rugby – longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Awards 2020 – the experiences and challenges of playing rugby in England and France, and how he had planned for life after professional sport.
He delivered a virtual session to students on the Diploma in Sporting Excellence (DiSE) programme at Hartpury – a TASS Dual Career Accredited Site – in which he encouraged them to gain academic qualifications and work experience to enhance their career prospects when their professional sports career ends.
The DiSE programme provides aspiring athletes with access to world-class training facilities, expert coaching and sports industry professionals while studying their main academic qualifications at another school or college.
Ben, now Head of Content at LAPS: Life After Professional Sport, gained A-levels and then an honours degree in English Literature before committing to a full-time career in rugby.
“I was always conscious of the need to learn new skills to give me a broad range of options when I did stop playing, because a professional sports career doesn’t last forever,” said Ben.
“I did various bits of freelance writing, learned French, gained a Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualification, and trained as a barista and mental health first-aider during off-seasons.
“If I had my time again, I’d spend more time doing actual work while I was playing to have more evidence of employable skills, writing in public and put more energy into building my network.
“Every year you hear about sportsmen and women whose career ends in a flash because they’ve sustained a serious injury – one day you’re an athlete, the next day you’re not.
“Sportsmen and women need to take responsibility for their own futures, such as through gaining additional qualifications or work experience opportunities before and during their sports careers.
“At LAPS, we encourage professional athletes to build something that will enhance their career opportunities when they retire from sport, whether that’s expertise, a body of work or a business.
Ben’s self-published book Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional Rugby provides readers with a first-hand account of how it feels and what it means to play rugby for a living.
Through writing the book, Ben said he had enhanced his skillset and gained useful experience that have proved beneficial in his new role with LAPS.
“There were so many reasons to write the book,” said Ben. “I felt that I had a perspective on professional rugby that wasn’t represented in books or the media, an unusual story to tell that players like me would recognise but that rugby fans might not.
“It was also a way of saying goodbye to rugby. Actually creating the book was a challenge I could get excited about and would help me learn loads of new skills; the actual writing, managing a project, marketing, design, publishing.
“I felt that I’d spent a year out of rugby and hadn’t done anything that interesting; this was a way of standing out while fulfilling a long-held ambition.
“As a result, I’ve connected with people all over the world and love hearing from readers. It’s also brought me professional opportunities and a level of credibility that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The DiSE programme at Hartpury is an additional Level 3 qualification designed for athletes across a range of sports who have the potential to perform at the highest level.
It offers a high-quality training environment with access to modern sporting facilities and the benefits of conditioning experts, physiotherapists, nutritionists and industry experts.
Louise Dennis, Diploma in Sporting Excellence (DiSE) Programme Manager at Hartpury, said: It’s been fantastic to work alongside LAPS this term.
“Our DiSE elite athletes have been completing a variety of career development modules and workshops to support their duel career pathway.
“At Hartpury, we support the development of these young athletes both in their athletic development but also in their individual personal development.
“Having real-life experiences shared with them by ex-sports professionals, such as Ben, is a great opportunity for them to gain valuable knowledge and insights into career pathways.”
Picture: Ben Mercer