Purple Monster is never afraid of taking on big challenges, so there was nothing overly terrifying about sending one of our smaller Monsters to run a networking event for Leicester Tigers Rugby Club in association with the Rugby Players Association. Really there wasn’t. Even when he was in a very small room with people three times his size. And it was a very small room…

We were approached to help the players with an upcoming networking event. The reality of being a rugby player – even a Premiership player with many international caps – is that their career could end during the next game or training session. Even without injury by the time they approach their late 30s they will be looking for a second career and when many of them have only known professional sport this is often a daunting prospect.

To help them prepare for this transition the RPA arranges events where players can meet with business people from a variety of fields so that connections can be made and different opportunities considered. The difficulty has been that in the past these events have been awkward with the players struggling to engage with the business community, and in some cases failing to fully accept that one day their careers will indeed end.

We adopted a two-fold strategy to address this.

First, we sent our dimensionally-challenged colleague to run a session with the players (in a very small room. With no windows. Did I mention the absence of windows?) This looked at the principles of communication with a particular focus on how awkwardness and discomfort are infectious.

The aim was to help the players relax into the experience and feel happy talking about things outside of their comfort zone. We were trying to instil feelings of openness and curiosity and greater ease with dealing with the unknown. The session was only short, but the players left with big smiles on their faces and more enthusiasm for the event itself.

The next evening, about sixty people (some of whom were never inconvenienced by things placed on high shelves) crammed into a small downstairs bar. Purple Monster facilitated the whole evening. Once again the room had no windows.

It was in this context we introduced the second part of our approach – a real life example of how players’ lives can change…

We had approached former international rugby player Budge Poutney to tell his story – he had very kindly driven up that afternoon from Bath to Leicester to do this. We used the framework of the Hero’s Journey: the framework of stages of change that lie at the heart of all stories. Each stage of transformation has its own challenges and invitations to develop, often in unexpected ways.

The central principle though is that for success to be achieved the person at the centre of the story has to find and retain a sense of positivity that others can draw on. In this way they create a “bank of goodwill” that they can visit when things get difficult.

Budge’s story expressed in this way powerfully illustrated that what that evening represented was the start of many journeys. Perhaps none of them would develop in straightforward ways but by taking that first step they were moving towards opportunities for fulfilling, mutually beneficial lives once their playing careers were over.

The feedback after the event was glowing and a big departure from previous events. We left with a marked sense of having done something really worthwhile. And a little less small.


Author: Howard Karloff