Thinus Delport joined us at the Rugby Business Network event on May 13th In Cheltenham. He talked candidly about the issues and decision players and their clubs face when thinking about and preparing for life after rugby as well as his own experiences of transitioning from the game into the world of business.
He was very entertaining and covered some serious issues facing top class rugby players today, as well as the issues facing those just coming in to the game at the top level.
Talking about his retirement from professional rugby and how he dealt with the transition Thinus had this to say.
I realised that I’ve got a limited amount of time where I can run around in a tracksuit and trainers. We get old and it takes longer to recover from playing and also from injury. Look, I played in a vets game at Old Pats and I’m still hurting and that’s after 4 weeks!
I realised that I’ve got to start looking at longer term opportunities that can give me a longer life span in terms of business so I got involved with a local recruitment company Adjacency .
Has it been tough moving from rugby into business? Yes it’s been tough because you live in this bubble for 14 or 15 years, and then the next moment you wake up no-one’s phoning you for a coffee, to come around, there’s no changing room banter, you just wake up and you’re all on your own. You think How am I going to pay the bills at the end of the month?
On the subject of young players coming into the game Thinus has some real concerns.
These guys now are 16/17 years old and they go into a full time rugby environment . They don’t have any experience of the business world or student life or anything like that to be fair. All their focus is solely on rugby. But you can get tackled from the wrong angle or tear your knee up. Alot of these guys can’t come back and they might only be 24, 25 26 years old, so there’s a real focus on player welfare, educating players for their future life after rugby.
Thinus discussed the Rugby Players Association (RPA) and the work it’s doing with player welfare and education, as well as how clubs who don’t have the representation of the RPA deal with player welfare. He was asked how important to players a future career is. Do they really think about it or do they wait until something happens that forces them to and if they do, do they know where to start? Thinus said.
Look, you think you’re invincible, you’re bullet proof, it’s all about rugby. At that stage all your attention and focus is on getting as far as you can in rugby, and this is why it’s essential for clubs to drive that thinking about life after rugby and for businesses to volunteer and offer their services. At the end of the day the players will always be difficult to convince but a lot of clubs are starting to offer a duty of care towards their players. We’ve recognised now that rugby is only a relatively young professional sport.
As soon as rugby went professional a lot of the focus was on performance. You had to be up every day of the week , you know, 5 or 6 hours a day out there involved in rugby. I think now, for the first time clubs are starting to realise just how much they need to care for players afterwards. Guys are getting injured; careers are getting shorter.
You look at studies being done, especially in NFL and premiership football that’s been professional for so much longer. The rates of depression, suicide and bankruptcy are a real concern for those sports. It’s unfortunate but it happens because players can’t deal with the pressures of no longer being involved in their sport at a high level or their clubs high tempo environment.
In rugby there’s still some way to go, but there are player welfare programmes now being put in place to help players plan for their future. But at the end of the day, it is about money; clubs have got limited budgets. It’s about whether the clubs can afford the cost of a player welfare officer and teams in the championship do struggle because support from the RPA is limited, they don’t have the resources.
That’s where local businesses through the Rugby Business Network can really help to build those connections with the clubs. It’s about educating the players. As I said before, young players think they’re bullet proof, they’re going to make money playing rugby and they think they are going to have a long playing career. It’s not until one of the boys steps up and talks to them having been through that process that they realise they’ve got to start looking at the opportunities for life after rugby and business is a key part of it. It’s important that clubs have good links with their local businesses. My old club Worcester has a great relationship with local businesses who really support the club, providing player placements.
On his reasons for choosing recruitment as a career, Thinus had this to say.
There are so many similarities between recruitment and a team aspect. For me the recruitment part is all about understanding the client, understanding the candidate, which you also have to do in a team environment. It’s about teamwork and putting the right people in place with that company. It’s about understanding the DNA of the company, the culture of the company, similar to the way we have to work in a team environment.
We have to understand the culture and abilities of the team, what the coaches want and bring it all together. Those are the transferable skills we pick up in rugby.
Although I might not have the specific business skills at present I am in an environment where I get a lot of support from my directors at Adjacency, coaching and guiding me in terms of the specific business needs. But in terms of the core values, the DNA , the culture, I fit perfectly. You know that’s what we thrive on. It’s about the personal relationship we have with the clients and the candidates and we are able to place the right people with the right company.
Thinus went on to tell us some more lighthearted stories of his escapades playing for the Springboks against Australia and New Zealand as well as some of his media faux pas! You can view the stories on the video.
He’s also kindly agreed to come back and talk to us again – we look forward to it!
Are you a professional player planning for your life after rugby, or maybe you’ve already started to make that move? What are your concerns or worries?
Do you have an opinion on player welfare? Do you think we should be doing more or are the clubs starting to get it right?