‘It’s about building a winning career’

Beach volleyball legend Kerri Pottharst had to work hard to find sponsorship funding throughout her career, but the effort proved more than worthwhile as she and partner Natalie Cook won Olympic gold on home soil at the Sydney 2000 Games. Now a motivational speaker and the author of The Business of Being an Athlete, Kerri has plenty of advice for you if you’re looking to attract sponsorship, build your media profile and develop your brand to help fund your own Olympic dreams.

  • Three-time Olympian Kerri Pottharst won the women’s beach volleyball gold medal alongside Natalie Cook at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000, as well as bronze at Atlanta 1996.
  • She worked hard throughout her career to build her media profile and attract sponsorship, which helped fund her path to Olympic gold.
  • Kerri wrote The Business of Being an Athlete to help athletes build a more lucrative career in sport.

For both Natalie and me, our goal was to make it to the Olympics in 1996, when beach volleyball was first held at the Games. But to keep playing the sport we had to actually make some money. We did get some funding from our federation, but we needed to create some extra income to help pay for our travel to the events and all the extras that come with it.

We liked to arrive at events a few days earlier to help acclimatise, and then we wanted to travel from one event to another and have the best coaches possible – all of that is pretty expensive.

We needed money for all those things, but we knew that in order to have the opportunity of seeing how far we could go in the sport, we would have to fund it ourselves. So we had to learn a lot of new skills to help us do that, because we had no other options.

Become media darlings

Because we didn’t get a lot of funding, we knew we had to find sponsorship. And we knew that to find sponsorship, we needed the media. We also knew that our sport wasn’t anywhere near being one of the mainstream sports in the country, so to get more media coverage we started contacting them ourselves to let them know what we were doing.

I was living in Perth when we started doing that, and the local media really enjoyed the fact that we contacted them ourselves; they’d never experienced that from athletes before. But we started to develop relationships with the media to let them know about our results and how we were doing.

Build your confidence

Once we started developing relationships with the media, we really started learning how to network, which is so important when looking for sponsors. We basically just learnt to ask [whenever opportunities arose].

Some people may have thought that spending time on all of that would detract from our training, but while we were doing it we were also building our confidence.

We were getting so much better at being around different types of people, communicating and networking. And then when we stepped on the volleyball court, we just had more confidence as people. I believe it really rubbed off on us.

We’d never done things like that before, so every step we took was a step out of our comfort zone. But we knew that by doing so we would have better opportunities and we would get a chance to see how good we could become.

Invest in yourself

The people we met were the people who helped open doors for us, creating opportunities to generate the income that we needed to keep playing, travelling and hiring the right coaches.

We were able to have a volleyball coach, a physical trainer and a mental coach to work on our belief systems. But without the income that we were able to generate through sponsorships, there’s no way we would have been able to do all of that, and we never would have reached our potential.

You’ve only got one shot while you’re at the peak of your athletic career, so you owe it to yourself to invest by getting the best coach you can find.

And that was the intention of writing my book and why I called it The Business of Being an Athlete. It isn’t just about generating income; it’s also about building a winning career. How do you do that? Well, you need income to access all the people and resources that you need to make yourself better.

Keep the faith

You really need to stay in it for the long haul and be patient. I was very driven, so often I would get very impatient and ask, “Why isn’t this happening yet? Why can’t we get these sponsors yet?”

But you need to stay in it for the long haul because it’s all part of a process. Whether it’s a five-year plan or whatever, there are going to be ups and downs along the way.

You just need to have the faith that it’s going to work. It’ll take time, but be patient.

Want to hear more about the best way to monetise your status as an athlete? Have a look at Athlete365’s Personal Brand Toolkit.