Nikki Symmons is one of those special people that has the unique ability to smile all the way
through an interview, which results in a very relaxed, frank conversation full of impactful
anecdotes that are sure to grab the attention of not just professional athletes, but pretty much
If your dream, as a very young Irish gal, is not just to become a professional hockey player but
also to be in the Olympics, there is only one option for you: to give it your all. And so, apart
from getting her Teaching Degree (a key fact to look at later on) Nikki represented her
homeland at 6 Women´s Euro Hockey Nations Championships, during 3 Olympic qualification
tournaments and during 3 Women´s Hockey World Cup qualification tournaments.
When one of your dreams does not come true, it hits home hard. Not being able to make it to
the Olympic Games of 2012 in London was a hard blow, and as she confesses, that match they
lost that robbed her and her team from participating in the Olympic Games still haunts her
every now and then. Many other athletes will easily resonate with that feeling, but at the time
she only got a “get over it and move on” message from her world. But, how do you move on
when hockey has been your whole life?
Four years before that fateful match, Nikki started planning her retirement…her body was
already sending her some clear, and so she drafted a clear plan: to qualify and compete in the
Olympic games, while turning 30 and then kissing the game goodbye. Unfortunately plans tend
to have that nasty habit of not working out exactly as desired…and so she retired from hockey
in a sort of “run away bride” style, leaving Ireland, hockey and everything behind. As she
explains in Damian Lawlor´s book “When the world stops watching life after the game” she
needed space and a break.
Of all places in the world she landed in Switzerland, the Olympic capital of the world, to pursue
a Masters in Sports Management. Don´t you almost hear Alanis Morrisette sing: “life has its
funny ways…?” Things happen for a reason (most of the times in any case) and for Nikki the
message was clear. There was no running away and she had to deal with all those challenges
the same way she had done on the field…head-on.
Loss of identity was a huge thing for her. To the point of even choosing it as the focus of her
thesis…! At the time no one talked about this type of personal crisis, hardly anyone would even
acknowledge it. So, she looked for professional help, and help she found. Her identity is clear,
and her personal brand is solid & bright. She reinforces during out talk on several occasions
how vital is for athletes to look for help when needed, during and after their sports career, and
does not hesitate to declare that National Federations should offer their members all the
needed support/education in areas like finance management, career orientation etc. so that
their transitions towards the future are less challenging.
Nikki worked full time during her sports career to make ends meet as a teacher, as a hockey
coach, and as an LGTBQ advocate. Juggling so many things around was far from easy, but as
she says, she was much more than just an athlete, and that brought her to where she is today.
She knows for sure that if she got a scholarship to study the Sports management Masters was
because the board did not only look at her athletic background; after all she was not going to
be an athlete, she was going to work in sports. And that´s a whole different story that requires
many skills, experience, education and determination. She had them all.
Later on, the opportunity arose to join the International Hockey Federation (she clearly was
not going to get away without a real reconciliation with her sport) and for 5 years she brought
her energy, knowledge and drive to lead the Digital division. This period served as a gentle
transition into what would become her future and is now her present: corporate world big
time! When she started doubting as to whether she would be up for the challenge, she did
what she knew would work: get help from a coach (business type this time), who helped her
define her path. You only need to visit her professional trajectory on LinkedIn to know this
time her plan did work out.
When asked what she would tell athletes in addition to what her story already depicts, she
offers some very valuable advice: “don´t just be an athlete. Be all you can be. Take every
opportunity to participate, collaborate, create, study, network…and be very aware of the
personal brand you are building for yourself. You are leaving behind a digital trail. Is it the one
you will need in your future?”
This advice should be printed in golden letters and hung in every athlete´s bedroom… It really
is that good !
Thanks Nikki for sharing your experience with us all, for having such positive words on our
work at themoove and your time!
Photo credits: pending name of photographer