How to make a dual career work for you

While he was busy winning three golds and a bronze across six editions of the Olympic Games, Australian rower James Tomkins was also working in a full-time job. Here, the IOC Athletes’ Commission member offers some advice about the benefits of balancing sport with a career, and how it could actually help make you a better athlete.

  • Balancing two things doesn’t necessarily mean giving them equal attention, says James
  • Focusing on something other than sport can actually help improve your performance
  • Communication with your coach is key to effectively managing your time
  • Find out how you could get a tailored mentoring session with a career expert

There was never any doubt that I would have to pursue another career alongside my rowing. The sport was never going to pay the bills by itself, so I always knew that I was going to do my studies and find work.

Sometimes I’d focus more on one than the other. There were certain times that I had to defer some of my studies because I had to commit more of my time to sport, and then there were also times when I would take a break from rowing and focus more on my work – especially after an Olympic Games, when I’d take a year off and commit myself fully to work. That would actually really motivate me to get back on the water!

Finding balance is key

I’m a massive believer in balancing life. When I started my rowing career, we would only be training twice a day. That gave me some time out in the middle of the day to go away and do things – like study or work. By the end of my rowing career, we were doing three or four sessions a day, which doesn’t leave much time to do other things. The increasing workload for athletes today means it’s more difficult to find room for other interests, have a balance or start thinking about your next career by either studying or doing some work experience. But the thing to remember is that balance doesn’t have to 50/50 or 33/33/33. The balance can be 90/10, but the important thing is that you are aware of that balance and how it plays into your life.

There’s a real danger of believing if you want to improve performance, that you have to just train harder and do more. I am of the philosophy that quality is far more useful than quantity. There is a limit to how much training you can actually do, and to do that as well as you possibly can is far more important than just training all day.

If you want to find more time for things like work or studying, it’s important to speak with your coach and work out how you can do it. There are bound to be ways that you can be more efficient in your training so that you can carve out some time to do something else. Even if it’s only for an hour a day or a few hours a week, if it takes your mind away from sport it can be a good thing as it will freshen you up mentally so that you can return to training more focused than before.

A new perspective can help you train better

I really believe that having a job while competing can help your sporting performance; personally, it gave me a perspective and understanding of life outside sport. If your only focus in life is sport, and your entire self-worth is based on whether you win or lose, then you’re not going to have much perspective and I think this is where a lot of issues can arise.

When all you do is train, you waste so much time and often you can mentally feel stale. My advice is to go and do something else. Then, at the end of the day you feel like you actually want to get some fresh air and do some training. Changing from one to the other helps you become really efficient.

You have to become really good at time management if you’re pursuing two careers at the same time. You can’t afford to waste time – you go in, do your session, get out and do something else. You’re not just sat there waiting around doing nothing. Even if you only have enough time to do a little bit of part-time work, or a little bit of studying, it will be beneficial and give you that balance. It’s important to have something else to focus on as it takes your mind off sport.

Help yourself make the transition after retirement

When it comes time to retirement, if you’ve been working or studying alongside your training then it will show any prospective employers that not only are you someone who has achieved fantastic results in sport – you’re also someone who understood that sport wouldn’t last forever and did something about it. When I retired from rowing, the transition was far easier for me because I had been developing that second career whilst I was competing.

I obviously miss being an athlete; I miss the singularity and purpose. Since retiring, I’ve found that I need a pretty significant challenge to aim for, physically or sporting-wise. Whether that’s a massive bike ride or running a marathon, I think it’s important to find something that you actually have to train for – something that you can focus on just to balance out the work that you may be doing in your new career. As an athlete, you always need to have some sport and activity back in your life to keep that balance.

Interested in learning more about your dual career options? Athlete365 are offering you the opportunity to have a tailored session with one of 30 experts from The Adecco Group, in which you’ll receive career advice and mentorship. Click here to find out more.