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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Charter

The “Employable Olympian” Fallacy.

Disclaimer: This article addresses the employability of athletes and for transparency at the time of writing I am/was employed as a contractor for BHP.

In Business and Economics there is a number of fallacies, these are opinions or theories that a significant amount of the population believe are true beyond doubt but however they have been proven false time and time again.

An example of this is the “Lump of Labour fallacy”, this is regularly used to debate immigration policy. It is the theory that for a given location there is a predefined number of jobs or work that can be performed and as such allowing immigration will result in the loss of employment for the local populace. This has been proven incorrect a number of times as it does not take into account that the immigrating workforces bring in skills not available locally and also that these workforces create new jobs by increasing demand and markets. Similarly, there is the “Luddite Fallacy” that believes that innovation will create long term technological unemployment, but it does not take into account the pivoting of labour requirements.

What I propose is the "Employable Olympian" fallacy, while lacking peer reviewed study it does have anecdotal evidence by thousands of current and past Olympians.

The common perception being that elite athletes are highly sought after in professional industry due to their proven work ethic, resilience, culture, and teamwork. While these traits are undeniable in the majority of athletes, only a small number of athletes are easily employed during/shortly after their career and generally only when they are high profile and can provide the company an immediate tangible benefit (e.g. media exposure or marketing).

The unfortunate truth is that while sporting achievements may allow access to, coffees with or presenting to some extremely high-profile people who may offer the chance of opportunities they are not the ones making decisions.

Ultimately the athlete needs to talk with their direct employer or recruitment manager who makes the decision. It's at this point things get awkward, the recruiter has been recommended to interview the athlete, but they have a job to do, to select the best candidate for the role.

If transitioning from sporting to professional career athletes usually have a gap between graduation and entering the work force or if they are committing to a dual career, they may require unique working conditions (e.g. different hours, extended leave, remote work). In either case when compared to other appropriate applicants their sporting careers have ultimately made them less employable though they possess a unique set of skills that are not easily attainable or measured and this is an all-too-common story.

Having returned from Tokyo I know at least 10 athletes looking for professional employment who have all been on at least 5 coffee catch ups for approximately 20 interviews across the group and countless CV reviews and still not a single one has found employment. This scenario has occurred every Olympic cycle I have been a part of (3). I myself have also suffered while trying to pivot my career in my pursuit of continuing to work and my next goal of Paris.

This article is not to bash recruiters or employment managers far from, I understand their decisions they're logical. But there does seem to be a huge disconnect between the value we the public and executives place on the skills athletes gain through their careers and the value these skills have in an interview. Where the gap from graduation to employment or the required working conditions or the lack of a specific criteria is exposed, and this is ultimately fatal for their opportunity.

I would like to implore employers and recruiters to look past this, look at the skills they've gained in their careers, the ability to handle stress, work ethic, resilience, honest conversations, ability to make decisions quickly when required and strategic thinking. These take decades to build, a small gap on a JDF, a slightly longer ramp up or a bit more management on working conditions is a small price to pay.

But at the very least stop telling athletes "oh you'll easily find a job". Because its far from true for the majority of athletes and that pressure just adds to the stress and anxiety during their search.

That is in essence the "Employable Olympian" fallacy.

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