Swiss judoka Sergei Aschwanden shares his experiences on transitioning from the sporting arena to a working environment

Sergei Aschwanden immersed himself in studying after retiring from judo, obtaining a master’s in Sports Management, before becoming director of a sports centre and then the tourist office in Villars, Switzerland.

With a bronze medal at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, Aschwanden – who was ranked in the world’s top five of his sport for 15 years – retired on a high, but crucially the man from Bern had already been gearing up for this next step by fitting part-time study around a rigorous training schedule.

Find time for education
“When you want to be in the best five in the world for a long time it’s a lot of investment, and you don’t have a lot of time to do anything else,” reflects the now 41-year-old.

“But I took the decision that I would do a little bit [of studying] to allow me to keep going with something new when I retired, instead of figuring out what I wanted to do and being lost for a year or two.”

Listen to your entourage
Aschwanden initially allocated two hours a week to his sports studies, and credits his entourage – which included his parents, coach, manager, physiotherapist, nutritionist, training partners and his friends – with encouraging him to look ahead.

“They told me that I needed to think about my future, and when you hear it every day for 10 years, at a certain point you get conscious about the situation and you start to look for something,” he adds.

Overcoming financial challenges
Despite a support grant from the Swiss government, Aschwanden warns that athletes might need to embrace some uninspiring jobs to get off the mark.

“The financial situation was not easy,” he reflects. “I practised a sport where the media interest is not high, so I didn’t have a lot of money, and I had to do some uninteresting jobs to finance my flat and my studies.”

Athlete skills are life skills
Aschwanden’s persistence paid off, however, and he is now the director of the Swiss village of Villar’s tourist office. The former judoka believes that his career in elite sport has helped him adapt to a role in which he now oversees the work of seven departments and more than 50 employees.

“When you’re practising sport at a high level you have coaching staff and team-mates, and you need to handle all of these people to make sure everyone is getting the best out of one another,” he says.

“And it’s the same when you’re working in a business. You have 50 personalities, and all of them have the professional knowledge, but if you want to really succeed you need to be capable of getting 100 per cent out of every person.”

Making the most of resources
Aschwanden is familiar with the Athlete Career Programme (ACP), having analysed it during an internship with the IOC in 2008, and believes it is a vital resource for Olympians if utilised in the correct way.

“It’s a very good concept,” he says of the programme. “It’s important that athletes know that the IOC is thinking about them not only when they’re active, but also when they’re retired.”

For expert advice about the transition to life after sport, visit the Athlete Learning Gateway and take the course “Career Transition – Preparing for Future Success”