Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Life after sport

On Wednesday 26th June, I was asked to join a focus group made up of an impressive panel of former elite female athletes at the offices of Ernst & Young in the city of London.

The point of the discussion was to help more elite women athletes become exceptional business leaders when they retire from sport. The aim was to gain a deeper understanding of what women athletes might need in terms of support as they begin or continue to make the transition from sport to the next phase of their careers.

Speaking from experience, transitioning from sport to ‘everyday’ life is not easy.

When the discipline and emotional ties of elite sport are removed, quite often athletes have very little idea of how to move forward and find it hard to cope.

This is a serious matter and one that should not be dismissed or over-looked.

I strongly believe that athletes should be made aware from a very early age that competing at elite level will only make up a small part of their lives. They need to keep their eyes and their ears open for opportunities that will help them in their life after sport. They need to plan for the future.

Perhaps National Sporting Bodies should help with this and assist the athlete in finding a worthwhile occupation on retirement from sport? Should it be their duty? Particularly if they have shaped and nurtured an athlete from a very young age and profited from his or her success.

More often than not, athletes live in a bubble. You are completely committed to your sport, to the exclusion of everything else and you tend not to look beyond an Olympic cycle. Nothing is more important. Sport is all-consuming.

Athletes can leave their sporting career with no money, unless they are the top ranked athletes from high profile sports or have personal means. They enter the working world much later than the average person with little or no work experience having dedicated themselves entirely to their sport for so many years.

This is a problem. Although I personally managed to get a University degree before the London Olympic cycle and gained some work experience in my ‘down-time’ after major Championships, I have a four year ‘gap’ in my CV where I trained full-time to qualify for the Olympic Games. In effect, an elite athlete will typically retire at the age of 30-34 and will have had no previous work-place experience.

Fencing has shaped me in countless ways. Elite athletes are self-starters and driven. They have all of the qualities needed to be successful in the workplace. They are, by nature, high achievers, team players, hard-working, committed, disciplined, ambitious, dedicated, organised, resilient, strong-minded, dependable, good motivators… I could go on and on.

All of these skills are transferrable to the workplace yet many employers see retired athletes as a risk, with no concrete work experience for someone of their age. An elite athlete seeking a career in business after the age of 30 does not typically fit in with company employee development plans. In a word, the athlete is considered to be too old at 30!

According to Ernst & Young, research shows a direct correlation between girls’ participation in sport and greater achievement in higher education and employment – so why aren’t more companies jumping at the chance to employ a former female elite athlete? Why aren’t more female athletes being identified and fast-tracked into the working world upon retirement?

I believe you can get an elite athlete firing in the corporate world in a very short period of time. The elite athlete is in a sense ready to go if you give them the right support and training and if it is something that they really want to do.

Businesses need to know that every year elite athletes will be leaving sport. They are going to be eminently employable but there is probably a large percentage who fall through the net.

I was lucky enough to find the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust who have helped me enormously with my transition from elite competition to life after sport. More than that, their support has made me feel part of a team again. I cannot thank them enough.

This is why I was delighted to be invited to be part of a focus group in support of Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Global Leadership. This same focus group was conducted in Rio and New York to make it a powerful global network.

Ernst & Young ‘get’ the qualities that a female elite athlete can bring to the workplace and they want to support them to thrive in business.

It was comforting for me to listen to the individual yet often similar experiences around the table. I think the network will be invaluable in highlighting the issues retiring athletes face and in helping more elite women athletes become exceptional leaders as they retire from sport.

What a fantastic initiative.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Sporting Champions: Longridge

I am extremely proud to have been selected as a ‘Sporting Champion’ to deliver Sportivate, a programme that has helped create a lasting participation legacy from London 2012.

Sportivate is one of the most important parts of the government’s mass participation legacy plans and I hope, that I can play an important role in helping encourage many young people to get into sport.

About a month ago I helped deliver my first motivational session to a group of young aspiring fencers at Longridge in Marlow. The group were naturally a bit reserved to start with but we soon relaxed into a fantastic session.

The young people grew in confidence and developed a great deal technically as fencers over the course of the programme at Longridge, It was a pleasure to see. They were engaged from start to finish and it was fantastic to see the big smiles on their faces at the end of each session.

It felt very rewarding to see them so enthusiastic about fencing and see that spark of passion for the sport in them that I had all those years ago when I first started fencing.

We did lots of footwork drills, fencing master-classes, games and a final team competition to wrap things up. I’d like to thank Leon Paul for providing posters as prizes - the group absolutely loved them!

During my time at Longridge, I wanted to use my experience as a former elite athlete to provide inspiration to these young people and really encourage them to stick at fencing. Hopefully I did just that. The group even promised me to carry on training hard and to never do less than their best. I’ll be checking in to see if they do!

But seriously, it was about enjoying fencing, having fun and feeling good about themselves. I felt like my visits were worthwhile and made a difference to the group. If I inspired even just a handful of young people to continue fencing, then fantastic.

I’d like to thank Jackie Faulkner and the staff at Longridge for looking after me so well and I very much hope I can work with you again in the future!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Youth Employment Convention

On Wednesday 8th May, I was very proud to speak on behalf of the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust at the Youth Employment Convention in Westminster.

Since stopping fencing, I have been involved in many projects with the Trust that seek to help young people get their lives back on track. The DKH Legacy Trust employ a team of world-class athletes who use their experience and skills gained in elite level sport to help support young people, the majority of whom come from difficult backgrounds.

This is something that I care a great deal about. When I think back at how much my mentors have been there for me and have given up their time and experience so unselfishly for my benefit – I am very grateful. I find it very rewarding to be able to give something back.

It’s not about trying to make disadvantaged young people future Olympians. It’s about trying to help them develop skills like focus, resilience, confidence, self-esteem and work ethic. All of which, I was lucky enough to pick up through sport.

I was honoured to be a part of the Youth Employment Convention, and particularly interested to hear the opinions of the Youth panel who all had different experiences and stories to tell on seeking employment in the current economic climate.

The point of the convention was to stimulate a larger national debate about youth employment and unemployment and what better way to kick-start a conference than to listen to the opinions of a range of different young people.

Those on the panel were enthusiastic, funny, articulate and spoke powerfully. They absolutely stole the show.

It was interesting for me to hear that one of the main barriers that young people face when looking for employment is a lack of confidence and self-esteem, as well as the motivation to keep trying over and over again when faced with multiple rejections.

The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust helps break down the barriers and fears that young people are experiencing. It’s about making young people feel good about themselves, and supporting them whilst they strive to achieve their potential.

I felt a massive sense of pride when I heard the young people speak because it felt like I was part of something that was making a difference and that felt good.

I said in my speech that we need to trust in our young people more and support them as they try to develop and make a contribution to society.

Young people are our future. It is up to families, government, schools, charities and other parties to harness that potential and give them the best possible chance to succeed.

Photographs courtesy of Andy Barker

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Claire Bennett - Blue Peter Showreel 2013

Hi guys,

Exciting news! I have applied to become the next Blue Peter presenter! I had a lot of fun making the clip (thanks to my brother for filming) - I hope you enjoy it too! Please like the clip and share the love, thank-you so much!

Claire x

Monday, 5 November 2012

US Girls Rocks Festival

On Thursday 1st November I attended the Us Girls Rocks festival in London. It was a free festival aimed at getting women together and having fun taking part in sport and activity. As ambassador of the charity StreetGames I was asked to get as many women and girls aged 16+ to have a go at fencing. There were a range of activities on offer including badminton, basketball, boxing, cricket, skipping class, table tennis and zumba. It was a fantastic day out and I was so pleased to see so many young girls have fun and get involved in sport.

After teaching the girls some fencing basics they got stuck in and really went for it. For most, it was their first time fencing and they were surprised at how much harder it was in reality to what they had seen on TV. Everybody got a bit of a sweat on and had fun doing it.

Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams also popped in to the event to join in the fun and help inspire the girls. She spoke of what it takes to become the first woman ever to win an Olympic boxing title and how her life has changed since winning gold. Becoming an Olympic champion changes your life forever and Nicola deserves every bit of her success.

I was able to challenge Nicola to a fencing match and I can tell you that she has seriously fast feet. We both agreed that boxing and fencing share many similarities. Still, I was glad I was fencing her and not facing her in the ring!

Nicola has transformed the face of women’s boxing forever. Her skill set and demeanor forced non-supporters of women’s boxing to question their mindset. She is a wonderful role model for women in sport, and she has changed the stereotype of boxing as a brutal, male-dominated sport with her big smile and positive attitude.

The London 2012 Olympic Games was a fantastic opportunity for women in sport. The results the women achieved at London 2012 and the media coverage that they received was extremely positive. The more successes there are like Nicola Adams, Jess Ennis, Jade Jones and Laura Trott; the more young girls will want to emulate their role models. Women have a very important role to play in sport, just as the men do. It is ridiculous now to think that there were no female athletes nominated for the Sports personality of the Year awards in 2011. That surely has to change in 2012.

Major decisions need to be taken at national and local government level and by sports administrators if there is to be an increase in young girls taking up sport. For now, our wonderful female role models like Nicola Adams and events like the US Girls Rocks festivals are doing a great job in promoting women in sport.