More than ever before, professional athletes are preparing for life after sports while their careers are still ongoing. It’s not uncommon for athletes to train, head to university, and then return to the gym for a whole week.
But what about athletes who have yet to find their calling? Those who feel they are forced to study for a career they never see. What will happen to them when it’s time to move on?
That’s the question beach volleyball player Jess Ngauamo asked herself twelve months ago when she was hesitating whether to move on to another training cycle or end that cycle. If she retired, there was no sign of the impending movement in the labor market.
Ngauamo was lucky enough to pursue a successful volleyball career at UCLA, but she was never inspired to graduate, and the passion for life outside of the sport just didn’t materialize. The prospect of abandoning beach volleyball for another career was not an easy path to see.
Fortunately for Ngauamo, Volleyball Australia was starting a new process to help athletes retire and advance their careers. With the support of her coaches, she had time to consider her options, and when she decided to move on, VA Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement Manager Jason Tutt gave her the support she needed.
“Jason gave me a big hand last year,” said Ngauamo. “He set me up with a psychiatrist to help me get out of the sport so I didn’t feel like I was alone.
“Through these sessions, I was able to get out of the sport, but also think about what’s next, but not in a way that I felt like I was forced into anything.
“In about six months of working with a psychiatrist and talking to Jason, I was able to find something that I liked.”
This appeal came in the form of Queensland Fire & Emergency Services and now hopes to pursue a career in this field.
“There are many similarities between fires and a professional sports career,” said Ngauamo. “A lot of things overlap with what I’ve done before.
“In that sense, it fulfills a lot of requirements, but it also gave me another goal and that was the most important thing I think about: finding a purpose outside of sport.
“It’s not easy because it’s been such a big part of your life for so long and then you lose it and you think ‘what else do I have? “.
Ngauamo believes Tutt and the VA’s athlete wellness program has allowed her to see a future in retirement after a retirement she didn’t plan on a year ago.
“They helped me realize that there is so much to take from my volleyball career that I look like a really attractive, desirable employee,” she said. “I got a lot of confidence out of it.
“I think if I hadn’t had these support networks around me, it would have been a little different 12 months.”
Speaking ahead of National Career Week starting Monday, Tutt said the new transition process introduced over the last two years will benefit athletes moving from national programs and retiring.
“One of the key outcomes of the AIS health checkup in late 2021 was the implementation of a transition strategy for athletes retiring from sport,” said Tutt. “The first of those to go through this were Damien Schumann and Becchara Palmer, who were both teaching and marketing respectively, but were well on their way before their careers ended.
“We are currently conducting final interviews where career options and career readiness are discussed, followed by follow-up at three, six and twelve months.
“With Jess, we established early on that a career in fire could be an option. Thanks to AIS’s relationship with fire service networks across the country, we were able to start a conversation with QFES and it all went from there.
“It’s been great that we were able to help Jess with her retirement from the sport and I’m sure she will have great success in her career.”
Unable to stop the competition entirely, Jess juggles her professional career with returning to netball, a sport she had to give up to pursue her volleyball dreams.
Former Australian Schools international Ngauamo joined a friend’s team last year and has now been selected by Gold Coast Titans Netball in the Netball Queensland’s Ruby series.
He says he is able to provide a unique perspective on the game alongside some players whose careers are just beginning.
“I feel like a 17-year-old volleyball player in the body of a 27-year-old! It’s strange to be an experienced athlete, but at the same time inexperienced.
“It’s a completely different position, but also very enjoyable.”
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