Three reasons why sport and study are a winning combination

Some people might say that a person who says their main profession is playing a sport that they love, at both state and national representative level, is doing OK at life, and I’m sure there are a few who’d do anything to swap spots.

For me, though, a successful rugby career is just one element of a good life; it’s equally important to keep learning. Not only does education set me up to tackle life after professional sport, it informs my view of the world on a daily basis and can even directly benefit the way I think about footy.

I’m weeks away from earning my Masters in International Business, something I’ve been working towards since 2007 – first at University of Sydney, then at Melbourne’s Swinburne University, then back to Sydney as I switched from the Australian 7’s team to the Melbourne Rebels and back to Sydney and the NSW Waratahs.  Along the way there has been a mix of part-time and full-time study, alongside about 230 days a year on the road playing representative rugby. One minute you’re studying organisational learning cycles and Griesedieck’s theory on succession planning, the next you’re poring over the Wallabies playbook or studying videos of your next opponent.

Although I’m no great fan of assignments or exams, it can be really useful to have something in your life that takes your mind away from football for a while. Along the way I’ve had to try to catch up on lectures via recordings that are too fuzzy to hear, or do groupwork with three members who organise to meet on a Saturday, then complain to the tutor when I can’t make it – because I’m a little busy playing against Ireland in the third and deciding Test!

But I’m almost finished, and feeling quite pleased with myself– not only for the achievement of finishing something I started so long ago, but also because this is an important part of my journey to transitioning into a fulfilling post-rugby career. Maybe I can even influence a few of the younger ‘Tahs to quit playing Fortnite and go and do something more constructive!

I would recommend that anyone continue their education for these three reasons:

Knowledge is power

It’s not just about going to uni, unlike Tom Robertson who is completing his Masters in Medicine (very impressive for a prop!) or Bernard Foley who has completed his Bachelor of Commerce (it hasn’t helped with his sudoku puzzles).  A bunch of us boys recently did our Heavy Rigid truck licence including several of the country boys, who are now going to be able to help out around the farm. Jake Gordon did his certificate 3 and 4 in personal training – possibly only because he wants to be a famous Instagram trainer! Yet all of us have picked up essential life skills and information along the way.

Last year I studied a subject called Leadership in Organisations; I have been part of leadership groups on the field for a number of years now, but learning the theory genuinely helped me to see it better in a squad scenario.

Meet different people

I love hanging out with 30 of my mates at the footy club, bashing each other up, getting fit and – best of all – inspiring our fans. Yet when I go to Uni, I meet totally different people and have completely different conversations. Nothing gets you out of your comfort zone faster than learning amid mature-age and international students, as well as high-performing professionals who are adding to their already impressive education. I met a schoolteacher from a prestigious Sydney school who worked full-time and was also studying full-time. I stopped whingeing about my workload after that. I’ve worked in study groups where English was not the dominant language. That was tough, but will be a great experience for collaborating internationally in the business world. I would never have met these people, made friends, and been inspired by them, if I didn’t choose to study

Boost your career

We all love hearing stories about the high school dropout who became a squillionaire, but those types are few and far between. The rest of us can only benefit from growing our education – as my parents always said: “All you need is that piece of paper to get a chance!” Dad still asks me: “Are you done yet?”

It’s annoying, but he just wants to make sure I’m set for a career after footy. If nothing else, that piece of paper shows an employer that you are committed enough to complete something. New skills can give your career a much-needed boost, or your business a new direction.

There’s no part of life that can’t be enhanced by a little extra education – career, sport, friendships and family all benefit. It’s especially important for those of us in a sporting career with an end date. Having that ‘piece of paper’ only magnifies your opportunities.