Three international female hockey players have won coveted places on a unique intern programme, run by international business solutions company EY.
The programme – the EY Women Athletes Business Class of 2021– aims to support elite athletes as they make the transition from a sports career to a career in business. For the 2021 programme, applications were made by female athletes from a wide range of sports from all across the globe, with just 15 athletes being selected for the prestigious programme. The trio of successful athletes from hockey are Janne Müller-Wieland of Germany, Hollie Pearne-Webb of England and Great Britain and Aki Yamada from Japan.
Hockey was the only sport with three representatives, and along with cricket and beach volleyball, one of three team sports to have representation on the course.
Talking about why she felt hockey was so well represented on the course, Müller-Wieland said: “I think team sports in general might have an advantage in the business world because they naturally know how to move in [a team environment] and perform as a team – I don’t believe that EY chose depending on your sport though, which is great. I feel hockey players are more used to thinking about things outside their sport as well, though. Since we are often not professional full-time athletes, it gives us time to study or gather work experience at the side.”
Both Müller-Wieland and her British counterpart Pearne-Webb currently balance careers in business alongside their hockey careers. The German captain is a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman, with her own start-up company, Unthink, and a role for Intel as a Technology in Sport Ambassador. Pearne-Webb works part-time for the UK government’s Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. Yamada has spent much of her adult hockey-playing career in Australia and England, although as Japan builds up for a home Olympic Games, she is now playing for the Coca Cola Red Sparks in Japan.
For all three athletes, the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be at the forefront of their minds, but they are also approaching a time when hockey might start to take a back seat and that can be a daunting prospect. As Pearne-Webb says: “I am expecting a transition out of sport to be incredibly hard, I am dreading it because I love my job as an athlete.
“But, while it will be hard, at least there is something else there; something else in the locker. I also think it will keep me in sport for longer because I already have something else going on. I won’t have to start a career completely from scratch, so I won’t have to leave sport to find something else.”
The EY programme is a mix of webinars, workshops and a mentor programme – each athlete is paired with a mentor according to their career aspirations. Mentees are taught how to translate their experiences in sport into business excellence. They also identify their strengths and set clear goals for their future.
“One of the biggest things is understanding your value outside of sport,” says Pearne-Webb. “For a lot of athletes, when they retire, the biggest issue is lost identity and feeling valued. Joining a programme like this, with the competition for places, you have sort of enjoyed a level of success already. It also helps us understand what we can bring from the sports world. My mentor has already spoken about what she can learn from me and some of the lessons I have learnt in sport.”
Müller-Wieland adds: “I think in general it is great to exchange experiences, thoughts, challenges with fellow female athletes from around the world who are at different stages of their life and career. There is a lot we can learn from each other. On top of that, access to EYs smartest leaders and the workshops we do together is unique and gives us a completely different input again which can pave the way for our personal future careers.”
The benefits of the course are not one way. Kirsty Ingram is Global lead of the EY Athlete Programme and she says: “I am acutely aware of how sport has helped shape my own professional career. Resilience, confidence, passion, leadership and an unwavering focus are qualities elite athletes possess and qualities that the business world requires.”
For other athletes who are approaching a life away from the hockey pitch, Müller-Wieland has this advice: “My advice is to start early to get curious about things outside of your sport. If you can study on the side – even if it takes twice as long – do it. If you can gain some work experience, even for just one day a week or mini-internships, do it. If you have a hobby, which is not your sport, that you really enjoy, do it.
“Speak to many people, learn about what they do, be open minded, build your network… This will help massively at the end of your career because you will get a feeling of what you are interested in, what you enjoy, what you are curious about or even good at. Meeting people and staying in touch is a great advantage of being an athlete – people will take the time for you, so start having those conversations, you never know what the future might bring.
“Also, don’t underestimate the incredible experience you bring from your sport. Athletes are usually very good learners, so you will probably learn quite quickly the skills you need for the job; the “soft skills” however are already instilled in you from your sport background, which are way more important and much harder for others to catch up on. So, believe in yourself, you are a great asset to your employer.”