More so now than ever before, professional athletes are preparing for life after sport while their careers are still going. It is not uncommon for athletes to train, head to uni then back to the gym throughout the week.
But what about the athletes who haven’t found their calling yet? Those who feel like they’re being pushed to study for a career they never see eventuating. What happens to them when it’s time to move on?
That question was facing beach volleyballer Jess Ngauamo twelve months ago when she was tossing up whether to push forward for another training cycle or to call it quits. If she did retire, there was no obvious move into the workforce approaching.
Ngauamo was fortunate to pursue a successful college volleyball career at UCLA, but was never inspired to finish her degree and a passion for life outside of sport simply didn’t eventuate. The prospect of leaving beach volleyball for another career was not an easy path to see.
Thankfully for Ngauamo, Volleyball Australia was starting a new process to help athletes transition to life post-retirement and help them on their career journey. With the support of her coaches, she was given time to consider her options, and when she decided to move on, VA Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement Manager Jason Tutt provided just the support she needed.
“Jason gave me a big hand last year,” said Ngauamo. “He set me up with a psych to help me transition out of sport so it didn’t feel like I was out on my own.
“Through those sessions I was able to transition out of sport but also then think about what to do next, but not in a way which I felt like I was forced to do anything.
“Over about a six month period working with the psych and having chats with Jason I was able to find something that appealed to me.”
That appeal came in the form of the Queensland Fire & Emergency Services, and she is now hopeful of a career in that field.
“There’s a lot of similarities between the firies and a professional sporting career,” said Ngauamo. “There’s a lot of things that align with what I used to do.
“It ticks a lot of boxes in that sense but also gave me a different purpose, and that was the biggest thing I think: to find a purpose outside of sport.
“It’s not an easy thing to do because it’s such a big part of your life for so long, and then you lose it, and you’re like ‘what else do I have?’.”
Ngauamo credits Tutt and the athlete wellbeing program at VA with allowing her to see a future post-retirement that she hadn’t set had her sights on a year ago.
“They helped me realise there’s just so much to take away from my volleyball career that makes me look like a really appealing, desirable employee,” she said. “I took a lot of confidence out of that.
“I think if I didn’t have those support networks around me it would have been a bit of a different 12 months.”
Speaking ahead of National Careers week which starts on Monday, Tutt said the new transition process put in place inside the last two years would benefit athletes moving out of national programs and into retirement.
“One of the key outcomes out of a wellbeing health check with the AIS in late 2021 was to implement a transition strategy for athletes moving out of the sport,” said Tutt. “The first two of those to go through that were Damien Schumann and Becchara Palmer who have gone into teaching and marketing respectively, however they were well on their way to doing so by the time their careers came to an end.
“We now conduct exit interviews where career options and career readiness are discussed, followed by check-ins at the three, six and 12 month marks.
“With Jess, we identified early on that pursuing a career in the firies could be a option. Through the AIS’s relationship with the fire brigade networks around the country we were able to open up a conversation with the QFES and everything has flowed from there.
“It’s great that we’ve been able to help Jess in her transition out of the sport and I’m sure she will enjoy great success in her career.”
Unable to completely stop the competitive juices from flowing, Jess is combining her career pursuit by returning to play netball, a sport she had to give away to pursue her volleyball dreams.
A former Australian Schools representative, Ngauamo filled in with a friend’s team last year and has now been selected by Gold Coast Titans Netball in Netball Queensland’s Ruby series.
She says she’s able to provide a unique perspective on the game alongside some players whose careers are only just getting started.
“I feel like a 17-year-old netballer in a 27-year-old’s body! It’s weird being an experienced athlete but inexperienced at the same time.
“It’s a very different position to be in, but it’s really enjoyable too.”
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