‘It’s good to talk’ and to connect with others. In the second episode of our new Blog Patrick Latham looks at how his decisions professionally were a leap in the dark, were also a source of angst, concern and worry. He now reflects on those and everything he had taken as his norm was replaced and how he managed to come out the other side with a book in one hand and a pencil in the other.
Any change in a career brings a degree of uncertainty and challenge. For a professional team player, leaving behind the changing room will inevitably be a wrench and will be unsettling. I was never in a full time in a professional changing room, but I definitely understand what a sportsman or woman leaves behind when that atmosphere, those friendships, those well-earned drinks after a narrow victory, that togetherness, your support network and, above all, your normal are gone.
At the time of retirement, whether forced or at a natural end, the opportunities will present themselves, and a new life will begin to grow in whatever career path you choose to take. These opportunities may seem obscure and random, far removed from what you ever thought you might end up doing, but give them a chance and never pass up an opportunity. Sportsmen and women are far better prepared these days for the transition into a life after sport but all the preparation in the world will not get you ready for a life without the changing room, so what can you do to create a new one?
In my case, my professional ‘changing room’ was the department, friends and colleagues in the school staff room I left behind in a move away from teaching and my role as director of sport. I left the position to pursue a career as a self-employed graphic designer, setting up as a sole trader but also taking on a cricket and hockey coach role in a different school. I have been fortunate to make something of combining two of my passions: design and sport. However, I very quickly became aware of the difference in time I was spending with people. Having come from a busy school where as a department we solved problems, put in place exciting and stimulating programmes for the students, but mainly we talked. It is the regular interaction and the talking which quite quickly started to have a negative effect on my demeanour. I would wake up have breakfast, head to my home based studio with a coffee and then be on my own until lunchtime. The vast majority of interaction with customers was via email, so I could go hours without realising I had not spoken. After lunch, I would arrive at the school pitches for games, deliver the session to a group of young hockey players or cricketers and then return home often without interacting significantly with an adult. I imagine that the realisation of solitude I had is a similar feeling that many sportsmen and women feel as they leave their changing room behind. The feeling of loneliness and isolation, amplified by thoughts of missing the environment that was their normal and of such vast significance in their everyday lives. It became easy to see why sports men and women often suffer from mental health problems after retirement. The support network that was there, the safe environment, your changing room, is now missing. So how can we go about replacing it?
Your changing room was probably a unique collection of individuals in which you had some good friends, some with whom you got on and probably some who you made sure changed at the other end of the room. These, though, were the ingredients for the environment you are now missing terribly. It is unlikely you will ever recreate or rebuild a similar place with all those characters, feelings, emotions and good times but several aspects of your life in your changing room can live on giving you comfort in familiar ways of life.
In writing our ‘A Leading Edge’ books, I have had my eyes opened to how positively stimulating, challenging and refreshing it can be to actively get out and meet new people, and the ways in which these meetings have come about have been fairly easy to organise. I definitely fell into a daily routine of one-paced and introvert tasks in the day-to-day running of my business. It was having a seriously negative effect on my outlook and enjoyment of life in general. I do not think I became depressed because of the lack of interaction with other adults, but I was certainly not very happy, motivated or stimulated in the work choices I had made after leaving full time teaching, so the opportunity to work with Wesley Durston came at a very good time.
We wrote our first book A Leading Edge for Captains, together but separately, each taking a chapter, going away, researching and writing. Our regular meetings in the ‘office’ (a very comfortable Oakham coffee shop) turned out to be a huge help for me in feeling a lot more positive about life and I began to feel that I was starting to contribute to society again in some small way. Since publishing the book, we have used social media and social networking to make positive connections. We have set up meetings, skype calls and phone calls with influential people to discuss ways in which we might be able to get our first book and the second book in the series ‘A Leading Edge for Bowlers’, seen by a larger number of young people.
One of the most positive opportunities came at a local business group meeting in a local hotel, where we had a stimulating discussion with local successful businessmen and women about ways in which we might consider approaching the marketing of our books. Seeing the massive benefits of getting around a table with a group of positive thinking and encouraging people, not just to our product but also to our own mental health and wellbeing, Wesley and I are definitely going to get more involved in the group.
The process of writing the books has demonstrated to me that the positive use of networking sites, such as LinkedIn, can be fantastic tools in getting connected to some amazing people in influential positions who, invariably, if asked politely are very willing to help. Since leaving my director of sport position, I had lost the understanding of the importance of connections and knowing people who know people. I am starting to build up a larger support network again, missing for so long.
The importance of getting around a table for a coffee and bouncing ideas off each other was something that I was used to, but had fallen out of love with. That part of my ‘changing room’ I am very pleased to have put back in place, and the rewards in terms of the positive effect on my mental health have been amazing to experience.
It would appear that it can be quite easy after a successful life in professional sport to fall into a less challenging and rewarding lifestyle which can have a huge negative impact on your mental health and general enjoyment of life. The loss of the environment of the changing room and all that went with it can be crippling and if allowed to take over your thoughts can push you into a downward spiral. By challenging yourself with a project, getting out, meeting new people, and being open to new ideas and thoughts you can recreate parts of what you found so comforting and familiar. As someone who participated in a professional environment, you will have a wealth of experience, knowledge and stories that people will want to hear about. Your personal story, struggles or overcoming hurdles such as injury, setback, success and failure are pieces of information that people want to hear about. Children love to see a sportsman or woman in person and, like sponges, absorb your stories and hang off your every word. They love to be in the presence of athletes, to have the opportunity to be coached by you and to play your sport with you. These experiences for children can inspire, change lives and make a real difference. There are a number of excellent charities and organisations who are crying out for athletes with a story to tell, who can inspire young people with their experiences, talking to them about their journey.
The good news is that as well as being very achievable, connecting with new people will give you a new support network, meeting them and sitting down to talk is good for developing your own ideas and allowing you to explore your own thoughts on projects that other people are undertaking. A lot of what you will be missing from your old changing room experience. You will undoubtedly have acquired a vast range of skills and ideas throughout your sporting career and in getting together with people you will give yourself that chance to find that you are perfectly placed and in the extraordinarily privileged position to contribute significantly in helping others, inspire them, changing their lives for the better. Nothing can be more rewarding than that.
‘Cricket: A Leading Edge for Captains’ is now available as eBook and paperback on Amazon.co.uk. Please click here to visit the shop