There is life after a fulfilling sports career, and it can be an exciting, challenging, and successful one, as Diana Engetschwiler has proven. During our conversation with the former Swiss National Team volleyball player, it becomes clear that the business world is her court now, and that she continues to play to win the game. So, if you are a professional athlete wondering how to prepare for a potential future career in the business world, make sure to keep reading since Diana has graciously shared her “must do list” with us, so that anyone facing retirement can be well prepared…
While it may be unnecessary to say so, that list full of golden advice wasn´t won in any fairground nor was it handed over to her by any other sports professional. Her own experiences since closing her sports chapter have dictated it, and looking at how far she has come, it certainly will be good to have it handy!
And that is a great topic to start with: closures. It is one of the first things she shares with us: how particularly important it is for an athlete to manage that step with care, and how impactful the consequences are, at all levels, when it is not well catered for. The one word she uses to describe her own retirement comes out loud and clear: disappointing. Finding out how utterly different the business world was from the one she had known up until that date, made her feel she had to start from scratch. As if she had to rebuild her whole existence after 10 years as a volleyball player. Back to square one, so to say, with the feeling that everything she had worked so hard for did not serve her for whatever may lay ahead. Does this sound familiar to any other retired athletes out there?
Luckily, competitiveness is the one skill that remains alive and kicking within most pro players. Add to that her curiosity and strong will, and what started as a disappointing experience quickly shifted into an interesting, fun, and challenging journey.
With a Sports science degree in her pocket, Diana decided to move to London and try her luck there in the business world. The first endeavors helped her to find out what she did not want to do, while the following experiences showed her “the way”. In her case, the combo of Sports & Business did fire that light, she enrolled in the highly sought-after FIFA Master…and has never looked back ever since!
Summarized like that, in just a few sentences, may bring across the illusion that it was an easy path. Let´s correct that quickly: it was not. Diana struggled with self-identity issues, one of those well-known factors that plague athletes after they retire. “Who am I without volleyball? What rocks my boat? How do I manage suddenly everything by myself, when up until now my coach has led the way? How do I maintain discipline and accountability when there is no team to do it for?”
She describes this phase as a huge learning curve, and from that personal experience she strongly recommends hiring a business coach as soon as possible, to help with the professional area of your life. There are too many changes happening at the same time and having good sound guidance in one aspect at least helps enormously. Hear her out!
This kind of support should be offered early on during the athletes ‘career by their Club, Federation and other institutions, as per Diana´s opinion. Career coaches helping define a study path that is manageable for the athlete, internships offered by the sponsors that allow the athlete some hands-on experience by participating in some projects… “Those are all meaningful experiences that prepare athletes for the future, are doable and bring significant value to their present and future careers,” Diana affirms.
“Not only something needs to change in the Sports world for those transitions to be gentler. The mentality of the athlete needs to shift as well to realize that, while you play the game, there are opportunities enough to acquire diverse skills and educate yourself on as many different things as possible, so that you can start “tasting the waters” prior to your landing in the business world…”- Diana´s dixit! And you may listen to her own words directly by clicking here
Even with all that preparation, challenges will be there. She particularly struggled understanding and adapting that phenomenon called “business politics” in Corporations, and the fact that giving and receiving feedback in the business environment -which happens to be second nature to a pro athlete-, is far from being perceived as the gift she believes it is. “There is little to do but to adapt, to understand that networking is a must, that being an excellent professional does not suffice to be recognized as such, that things need to be said on a very mellow way for colleagues not to feel offended… You do miss the simplicity of the sports world in that aspect, but athletes have a mentality that serves them well: you set yourself objectives and do all that it takes to obtain them…so go get them!”
She pinpoints another skill that many professional players have come to master; visualization. Imagining themselves winning a championship, seeing in their mind the exact move they need to make …she confesses to us that she uses it still today the day: when preparing for an important meeting, when focusing on a certain outcome she wants to achieve… Her advice: “make sure to visualize yourself doing what you want to do, feel how you will feel doing that thing, experience it and identify what separates you from that image. Once you know it, do what it takes to fill the gap…and just go for it.”
Talking to Diana is the equivalent to receiving an energy kick, and we suspect that her drive and competitiveness will continue to drive her towards success…Thank you Diana for your input, time and generosity!