Personal Finance

I want to swap the army for a career in sports — where do I begin?

This week’s problem

I was a national athlete in my teens, before spending the past eight years in the army. I now want to leave the forces and pursue a career in coaching or water sports, but I do not have any qualifications save for my GCSEs. Where do I begin? Anonymous, 20s

Jonathan’s answer

The transition from the armed forces can be challenging as many of the work and social structures of those institutions are inaccessible in civilian life and have to be recreated by you. About 20,000 people leave the British armed forces every year, so you are not alone in making this move. The Armed Forces Covenant may be a useful source of support for you once you have left the army.

While employers may state that a degree qualification is necessary, they recognise that success in the workplace is related to a number of skills that you have probably developed over the past eight years. These include leadership, communications, planning and, above all, relationship team-building with people at all levels and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Identify ways that you can demonstrate you have these skills from examples in your army career.

In Britain, there are programmes, grants and funds available to armed forces personnel before they leave the services; if possible, take advantage as soon as you can of all of these.

You might find funding for gaining educational qualifications (for example, in sports coaching) or consider engaging a personal coach experienced in working with soldiers as they work towards leaving.

Routes into sports coaching either follow a specialised undergraduate degree or direct to professional coaching qualifications. If you are considering a self-employed coaching career, then you will need to be able to demonstrate your qualifications; however, if you seek to be employed (in a school or sports centre, for example), then you will be competing with others who have eight years’ more direct experience than you. Explore ways to gain matching experience, perhaps through local voluntary work.

Looking further back in your career, many professional sports people move into coaching; you may find Switch the Play a useful resource for you to move into coaching, and it might also show you other options for the next step in your career.

Given your path is not that traditional, and there are differences between working in sports and in the army, you may find it effective and interesting to contact people who have made similar moves and perhaps are in positions of influence in sports coaching. You will benefit from understanding the key success factors they look for in applicants so that you can tailor your approach and, if necessary, gain any additional skills, experience or qualifications.

Readers’ advice

Study books on leisure economics, in particular sports. That will give all sorts of information, such as how to organise a marathon in the most profitable way. Bxl1

Do everything you can to get face to face with people who might be able to help you start, even if it means door-stepping them (politely). Kedge

Start a YouTube channel with swimming coaching tips. Not kidding. Get a routine of posting regularly and keep the early content focused on professional and highly technical tips, textbook level. T Mann

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email:

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