What the sport of rugby league lacks in financial clout, it more than makes up for in hard-hitting competition. Yet despite the heavy tackles, perhaps the biggest hit that players experience is when they step away from the pitch.
The sudden realisation that their playing days are over, losing the adrenaline rush of the game and the comradery of the changing room, can be difficult for some to cope with. The comparative lack of big money in rugby league means this transition can be especially difficult.
“We are not in a position where we finish playing and we are made men. We finish our career and we go back to the nine to five,” said former player Lee Radford, who now coaches Hull FC.
“It’s a ten or 15 year career if you’re lucky and then the reality is you are going to have to find work when it’s over. That it something that can happen for some earlier than others because of injury, that’s the nature of the sport.”
Recognising his own privileged position, Radford has signed up as an ambassador to the VSI Life After Sport Summit to help those who have not been as lucky.
The summit aims to help athletes prepare for retirement by providing guidance and support on everything from CV writing to mental health.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in the sport but there are only so many coaching position available.
“I’ve witnessed some blokes from my era struggling after leaving the game. It’s not just missing that high every weekend walking out in front of thousands of fans but also the pressure of putting food on the table for their families.”
Radford believes his sport does more than most to help players prepare for a life away from the game. The Rugby Football League obliges teams to organise regular workshops while Hull FC offers training courses for every player who signs a professional contract.
Despite this, he accepts that there is always more that could be done.
“When I heard about the Life After Sport Summit I had just finished talking to a bloke who had been the life and soul of every team he had ever played for,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe how much he had struggled after he finished playing. I would never have imagined that would happen to someone with his attributes and personality, it was a real eye opener for me.
“Just look at the average length of a career in rugby league, you couldn’t get a better advert for the need to plan ahead.”
The Life After Sport Summit, organised in partnership with Salford Professional Development, will be held at Old Trafford on Wednesday, May 30. Register your interest in the day – here.