18 November 2017Olympic medalist Beth Tweddle says athletes need a Plan B
Triple World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist Beth Tweddle has spoken of the importance of giving athletes a Plan B for when they finish competing.
The 32-year-old retired from competition in 2013 and now runs Total Gymnastics, a nationwide gymnastics academy.
She is also a director of Switch The Play, an organisation which helps athletes fulfil their potential through and beyond sport.
Tweddle, who is from Cheshire, said advice and guidance helped her make the transition from full-time sport.
Speaking at an event in Manchester, Tweddle said: “There were so many people that have helped me, my parents were instrumental, my coach was, but not every athlete has that support network around them.
“One of the biggest reasons I got involved with Switch the Play was to help those athletes.
“So if you are thinking I need something else in my life but I really don’t know nowhere to start then here’s the support to help you.
“We want to help them along that journey so when every athlete steps away from their sport they can say I love what I did, and now I’m going to move that passion because I have got my skills to move into a different area.”
Life after sport
Tweddle got into gymnastics when she was seven years old.
She said it was her parents who drove the conversation of ‘life after sport’.
“A lot of people ask me when I started to think about transition, and to be honest, I didn’t, it was always part of my life.
“When I was 12 I suffered a big injury and broke my ankle at the nationals. You have to remember at that time my sport wasn’t one I could make a career out of.
“Doctors told my parents that it was unlikely I would ever compete again. In the back of my parents minds they knew that gymnastics was a hobby I loved doing and gave everything to but I needed my education. They said GCSEs were my priority but they would support my gymnastics.”
Tweddle was also encouraged by her coach to explore other opportunities alongside of gymnastics and signed up to university.
“Getting me back into education was the best thing I ever did,” she admits. “It allowed me to have that dual world I benefited from when I was at school and training: Beth the gymnast, and Beth the normal person.”
Tweddle revealed she also explored other potential career paths, including sports massage and book keeping, neither of which she had the passion to pursue.
“The important thing was that it gave me experience away from my sports so I could work out what was ‘me’,” she said.
“I started to realise my biggest passion was working with children.
“Local schools were asking me to come in and speak to the children about your achievement. I loved being able to work with them and have that influence on them.
“It was in about 2009 that my business partner Steve Parry suggested that I follow what he did after his swimming career and set up a coaching business. So Total Gymnastics was born.
“I never wanted leave gymnastics. It was my life. So I asked myself how can I stay involved when the career comes to an end. I have achieved my dream and picked up my Olympic medal. Now I want to inspire.”
Her first CV
Tweddle recalls sitting down with her dad to write her first CV - at the age of 28.
“I sat there with a blank piece of paper and said ‘help’,” she said. “He told me I had to be kidding, then went through all the skills I had picked up in gymnastics such as team work, commitment, etc. He said: ‘How many people your age can say they have had one job for 21 years?’
“I didn’t see it as a job, but when he showed me what I have achieved I realised how much athletes do gain from sport, whether at grassroots or elite level.”
After gymnastics Tweddle appeared in a number of reality TV contests, winning Dancing on Ice in 2013. But her appearance in Channel 4's The Jump ended badly when she suffered a back injury.
Tweddle said that it was important for young people in sport to think about the future earlier to prepare themselves for transition away from sport.
“We speak to so many athletes who say I’d like to try this or that, and we encourage people to try things through work experience, because they might find that they don’t like it,” she said. “If they only start to think about what they want to do when they start to retire then they miss that chance and could end up in a career that they don’t enjoy. That’s very difficult when you have been living and breathing what you love as an athlete.”
Tweddle said she found the commercial and corporate world is really receptive to the transferable skills athletes have.
“So many of the skills athletes naturally have are difficult to teach people: determination, teamwork, resilience, the perfectionist in them, making plans to achieve goals and sticking to them.”
“In my opinion you can always teach athletes the business, but could you teach other employees those skills? I think it would be harder.”
Tweddle was speaking at the State of Play event organised by legal firm Brabners, which focussed on the legal and commercial challenges prompted by developments in governance, funding, regulation, reputation and technology on sports organisations.
Other speakers included Ash Cox, director of legal at British Swimming who shared his views on the impact of the Code for Sports Governance and Matt Brown from Brabners on new General Data Protection Regulations.