Cricketers risk being caught out in quest for life beyond the boundary

first_imgShare on LinkedIn Support The Guardian Guests are all keen to talk but the players stand and chat to each other instead, catching up on gossip comment Read more Careers Share on Facebook “You never really think that the end is going to come,” Graham Onions says. The Professional Cricketers’ Association had organised the conference to persuade the players that it really is and that they should start planning for it. Onions has just had one of the best years of his career, he took 59 first-class wickets at 21.61, but he is 36 and halfway through his two-year deal with Lancashire. He knows he will not keep going that much longer. “I’m no mug,” he says. “I need to be ready for the second part of my life.” So he is thinking about what he is going to do next. He thinks maybe it will be coaching.Onions is one of a handful of international players at the conference, all in their mid-30s. He says he feels like they are the lucky ones, because they lasted so long. The average playing career ends at 26. There are a fair few of those younger guys there too. A lot of them have just suffered or recovered from severe injuries, tears, fractures, mental illnesses, drastic setbacks that made them realise for the first time just how fragile and precarious a thing a career in professional sport can be. Some of them seem even younger than their age, like the couple I hear enthusiastically chatting about their favourite computer games in between sessions.The PCA’s Lynsey Williams has only just come from the organisation’s rookie camp, where she has been working with 15-year-old kids who are about to go into the academy system. “The two ends of the spectrum,” she says. So a lot of those 26-year-olds have missed out on higher education and work experience. The only thing they’ve done, the only thing a lot of them have wanted to do, in the last decade of their lives is play cricket. Most of them have had their minds fixed on it for longer than that, 15, maybe 20 years of batting, bowling, and catching. There’s a stigma around planning for your second career, too. Players worry it suggests they’re not committed to their clubs. Share on Twitter Reuse this content Topics Now here they are, learning about pension schemes and personal skills. A lot of the PCA’s work in this area is about teaching the players to think differently about themselves, to realise they have not just been learning how to play shots but also how to solve problems, how to work in teams and manage high-pressure situations. All skills that cross over into other fields. The salesman from the sustainable investment firm has been talking about exactly this for the best part of an hour now. “Any questions?” he says. There is one about the starting salary, then silence. It’s an awkward pause. Then someone pipes up “could you just explain exactly what it is you sell, again?”He can’t, at least, not in a way that makes much sense unless you can understand his lingo, and all of a sudden his world, the world he has been trying to persuade them they could move into, feels very far away again. Afterwards, everyone stops for lunch. The break doubles up as a networking session, a chance to practise the personal skills the players had been learning about earlier that morning. The PCA has invited a handful of guests along – investors, mentors, business people. They are all happy to help and keen to talk but of course the players all gather at one end of the room, and most of them stand and chat to each other instead, catching up on gossip.Their networking coach sighs to himself. That was not what he wanted them to do. But he is used to it. He explains one of the big problems he has is persuading players they have to break the habit of referring to everyone by their nicknames. “If we’re in a business environment I can’t just come up to you and,” he stops to look me up and down, “call you ‘Big Nose’.” There was a time when that might have been fine, another guest says, when a lot of former players would fall into ceremonial roles. They would get wheeled out to play with clients on corporate golf days. The PCA has helped around 200 players transition into their second careers in the last six years, across 44 different fields. Its programme is strongest when it’s presenting case studies about people who moved outside the sport. Like the Surrey bowler Tim Linley, who has opened a coffee shop, and the Northamptonshire batsman David Paynter, who has set up his own sports shoe business.The two years after you stop are supposed to be the hardest part. A retired player has not just lost a job but also an identity. “Am I going to find another dream job like I have done for the last 20 years?” Onions says, “Probably not. But I want to start that process.”center_img Ben Stokes to bat at three as England look to win series in Kandy Sportblog The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email. It’s a long way from Burton upon Trent to Galle and in the Hilton at St George’s Park last Thursday you could feel every yard of the gap. Away in Sri Lanka, England had just declared their second innings and were now pressing on towards victory in the first Test. Back in the Midlands, a couple of dozen of their county colleagues were in the Hilton’s Howard Wilkinson suite, listening to a presentation about how to get ahead in sustainable investment. Earlier that morning, they had sat through a talk on how improve their networking and presentation techniques, and later that day they had another scheduled how to build a LinkedIn profile. 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