Case study

Unleashing Your 2nd Wind: Helping Athletes Navigate Career Transformation

November 15, 2023
| minute read
Unleashing Your 2nd Wind: Helping Athletes Navigate Career Transformation

Changing careers is challenging for everyone. But when it comes to elite and professional athletes, it's a different ball game altogether. Ryan Gonsalves is helping athletes get their ‘second wind’ when it comes to life and career after sports.

Life after sports: the inevitable transition for athletes

Ryan Gonsalves is no stranger to transition. Over 30 years, he’s lived in diverse geographies and cultures and worked across different fields across: from English professional footballer, to Hong Kong-centric banker, to Australian public servant, to life coach, career practitioner and business owner.

"What's fascinating about elite athletes is their dedication at the expense of everything else to achieve goals, starting from a young age," Ryan explains. "They gain a level of mastery that puts them in the top 1-2% of people worldwide.”

Career transition was something Ryan also initially struggled to navigate. While they have a compelling dedication to better themselves, athletes often neglect to develop other skills or pursue separate interests away from athletic pursuits, leaving them unprepared when it comes time to emerge from their sports career.

“It’s a hard comedown because their sense of identity and purpose is interwoven with their sport."

Ryan noticed similar sentiments from many former professional footballers while playing at the Hong Kong international masters tournament. Spurred by curiosity, he extended the conversation to members and administrators of sports communities and athletes across different sporting disciplines.

Athletes face a unique set of challenges. It's a career where an exit is inevitable and usually not of their choosing, due to factors like non-selection or injury.

Post-sports, they face a fear of starting over, a sense of being ill-equipped and are in need of finding new meaning and energy to propel them forward.

From there, the idea of the 2ndWind Academy was born.

Supposing their first career was a warm-up, what would it take to give them a ‘second wind’?

Founder Ryan Gonsalves sharing ideas on athlete transition at a business event in Sydney

Podcasting with a purpose: building a community

At the heart of 2ndWind’s mission is the power of connection.

For founder Ryan, building a supportive network of people with shared experiences was crucial in his startup journey.

“Being at HHQ made me realise the importance of building a community with a foundation of sharing similar stories,” he reflects. “I speak with people doing different things and building businesses in different ways. Yet we all relate to each other. Simply sharing a tea or ginger beer brings up a lot of stories and struggles in a light-hearted way.”

The 2ndWind Academy Podcast, which kicked off in 2022, raises the conversation on career transition through the lens of elite athletes to inspire others. Guest speakers include sportspeople contemplating or going through a journey of discovery, reimagination and transformation.

Listener feedback has reinforced the value of relating to someone's journey. It also led to the insight that there’s also a lot in common with dancers, performers, actors, and artists, all intensive physical disciplines where emotions and happiness is linked directly to performance.

With close to 50 episodes published, Ryan distills learnings into practical frameworks, turning the stories into tangible insights to help people find the courage and energy to make a change.

Jayden & Luke Schofield (Triathlon Athletes at NSW Institute of Sport) share their thinking on careers on the 2ndwind Academy Podcast

2ndWind Academy is undergoing an evolution of its own

Launching soon is a 7-step career development and lifestyle transition program to guide and connect athletes to their next career.

"Throughout my journey, I always knew there was something I needed to help people through," says Ryan, who also holds qualifications in life coaching, career counselling and business advisory. "I originally considered launching a financial literacy education company based on my 20 years of experience in wealth and personal banking product development. It wasn't until those conversations that I realised career design was where I could add value and bring a different perspective." 

Combining corporate experience and his own journey, Ryan brings a unique expertise in human-centred design and strategy and innovation practice (post-it notes and sharpies included) into the career development world.

“We focus on equipping athletes for life after sport in an engaging format. A career change should be a fun, energising and interactive experience—and I think it's better done as a team. It's not enough to be ticking boxes, doing random tests, then being allocated a profile and having repetitive conversations every 6-12 months.”

Ryan suggests that in many cases, the process is often about re-shaping mindsets and being curious. Reimagining how what we've learned, strived for and achieved can provide value to others followed by setting a measurable path of personal accountability.

He’s discovered that athletes’ challenges are consistent across sports, languages and territories. Swapping stories is a way for them to connect with others and to build confidence and enjoyment.

Having gone through that journey, Ryan knows better than anyone how tough and rewarding it can be.

Ryan with the students of International Sports College Australia after delivering a workshop

You can learn more about 2ndWind here.

Catch the 2ndWind Academy podcast every Wednesday here.

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