LOS ANGELES – With the world of wrestling converging in Los Angeles for a week of World Cup competitions and training seminars, organisers added a new feature to the event: a course on how to help elite athletes pursue their education and career goals whilst competing.

The event’s target audience wasn’t just 30-year-old athletes already thinking about their transition from wrestling. United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s international governing body, targeted elite female coaches from around the globe.

As anyone who has stepped onto the mat can attest to, wresting is one of the toughest sports out there. Success in wrestling matches athleticism and intellect along with a healthy dose of physical preparation.

“How wrestlers handle pressure, how they deal with pressure is very relevant to the workplace”, UWW development director Lúcás Ó’Ceallacháin said. “This brings a lot of value to employers.”

Communicating the assets athletes bring into the labour market, though, often proves challenging. Seeing the need to support elite athletes from their development years to retirement, in 2005 the IOC created the Athlete Career Programme (ACP) in cooperation with Adecco.

In doing so, the IOC reinforces the ideal that athletes stay as the heart of the Olympic Movement. Initiatives like the IOC Athlete Career Programme play a central role in helping Olympians pursue education and career goals, both during and after their competitive sports careers. This kind of athlete support is central to Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement.

Encouraging wrestlers to further their education during an athlete’s competition years is also a target of the UWW, according to Ó’Ceallacháin.

“In some of the more developed countries, wrestlers have university systems that allow them to combine education with their sport”, Ó’Ceallacháin said. “But the vast majority of wrestlers don’t have this access.”

In Los Angeles, Yuri Maier, a 13-time Argentine national champion, presented the course. One of Meyer’s central messages was “consider your education.”

Not only was this Maier’s first time delivering this course, but the event in California is also one of the first times an International Federation ever directly delivered an IOC ACP course.

“I wasn’t nervous because the topics we talked about were natural”, Maier said. “I already incorporated these ideas during my own sports career and transition away from competing. Having this experience made it comfortable to talk about.

“Wrestling is a sport that draws people from around the globe”, Maier added. “It’s essential to help athletes develop themselves.”

In a telephone interview after the event, Ó’Ceallacháin echoed Maier. “With online education today, wrestlers can at the very least start to investigate what they are interested in.”

“Do you put time into watching Netflix in your downtime, or do you do some work to set up your future career?” Ó’Ceallacháin added. “You can actually get a head start now instead of worrying until the end of your career and starting your new career then.”

UPCOMING EVENTS

Olympic medallist Clarissa Chun will host a similar event for wrestlers representing Team USA at the Rio Olympic Games. The 34 year-old Honolulu native won bronze in the 48kg freestyle event in London, and is the reigning Pan-American champion, but just missed out on qualifying for Rio.

“I just think it’s important for everyone to have a plan and look for opportunities for their post-sports career”, Chun said. “I understand that every athlete’s competitive career is limited in terms of time.”