Interview with Elliott Smith, business owner and professional footballer
Our blog today is a question and answer with Elliott Smith. He is going to give us an insight into balancing the demands of playing sport and running a successful business.
Elliott is Co-Founder and Managing Director at Financial Services Company Nectre. He combines this with playing football for Berwick Rangers FC in the Irn-Bru Scottish Football League Division 3, having previously played with Hearts, Cowdenbeath and East Fife amongst others.
Q. Can you give us an idea of the hours you work, and the hours you have to commit to training and playing on an average week?
ES. This year has been a strange year for me. After starting the business last November I unfortunately ruptured my ACL in December during a game. I’ve been lucky with injuries and in reality this is my first injury in nearly 13 years playing as a professional.
As a small business owner I don’t think you can really have a set 9-5 week. With my role specifically dealing with all new business and clients, I need to do quite a bit travelling and I am normally down south up to half a dozen times per month. This can take its toll and some days I can be up at 4am to get first flight to London.
My rehab so far has gone pretty well, I got my operation in March and since then I have been working on getting back my full range of movement, my strength, and more recently I have returned back to running.
Ideally I try fit in a minimum of 3 sessions per week (Monday, Tuesday & Saturday) consisting of around 60-90mins of strength work and the same working on my CV.
I don’t think I ever really switch off from work as I will still be picking up emails late at night/over the weekends.
Q. What do you see as your biggest challenge to allow you to maintain the required level of performance in your job and football?
ES. Other than time, I think the biggest challenge for me is making sure I can rest and recover sufficiently between sessions, games and work.
Take today (Wednesday) as an example. I was up at 4.30am to get the 6.20am flight to London. I have 5 meetings which will finish around 7.30pm and then I fly home again just after 9pm. This is between training on both Tuesday and Thursday for 2-3 hours.
Finding the right balance between work, training and having a social life is difficult but so far I seem to be managing.
Q. As a football player, what lessons do you take from your work into the sports team environment?
ES. Leadership. From a young age in my work career I have been given responsibility to manage a business and team. This has mirrored my football career with me playing both the role of captain and coach over the years.
Whether in football or business I have always tried to drive things forward, motivate and build success.
Q. What aspects of a successful sports team do you think can be taken (or you do actually take) into the work place?
ES. Having fun. As much as I am professional I enjoy having a laugh and probably enjoy the changing room banter as much as the game. Enjoying what you do is important and in business, whether dealing with peers, staff or clients, I adopt the same outlook.
In my most successful teams I have played with we have always had a great team spirit, enjoyed socialising with each other and in turn worked that wee bit harder for each other. Business is no different and the same spirit can achieve greater success.
Q. Balancing full-time work and part-time sport requires good time management, what would be your top tip?
ES. I am not sure I have really mastered time management but I think I have learned to be far more organised since starting my own business. Planning the weeks ahead and trying to organise travelling around training has helped me manage my time more effectively. I also try to use “dead time” as best as I can. I spend a lot of time on planes, in airports etc so making use of this time by catching up with emails, reading and dealing with simple tasks always help. (such as this interview!!)
Q. You have also been a full-time player in the past, and there is obviously a vast difference in resources, but what do you think those playing semi-professional and amateur sport can learn/apply from the pro game?
ES. The full time game is always evolving and even in the short time I have been away from this I can see changes. I think the biggest area where part-time players can learn and apply principles is nutrition.
Full time teams now have much better access to advice and support on what to eat, when to eat it, how to stay hydrated etc. This would be something that part time players could learn from and apply to their lifestyle.
Q. From the coaches you have had throughout the years, is there one that stands out?
ES. There is actually 2 and for completely different reasons.
John McGlynn (current Hearts manager) was my youth coach from 15years old and even at that stage you could see he would be a successful coach and manager. Aside his coaching ability, it was his attention to detail, organisation and preparation that has made him so successful. He was always trying to improve his chances to succeed and would watch games, players and other coaches every week.
The other manager is Dick Campbell who I worked under at Forfar Athletic. His coaching style was far from modern (I don’t think he would mind me saying that!) but his man management and ability to deal with people is second to none. He has a natural ability to motivate and get the best out of players. He managed to strike the exact balance between professionalism and having fun, which made players want to play for him. He also adopted an interesting approach to team talks and I always recall the short team talk before a derby game about Sunday roast dinner and the last tattie…Not sure if it was inspirational or lost on everyone but we went out and won nonetheless!
Q. Do you plan to get involved in coaching once your playing career ends?
ES. I have coached at Berwick over the last couple of seasons and enjoyed that side of it too. My focus is still on playing for the time being but will definitely explore coaching opportunities when I retire. I think when you have been involved in team sports for so long it is hard just to give up completely and I plan to do my ‘B licence’ over the next year or so to get the relevant qualification to allow me to coach at professional level.
Q. What personal qualities do you see as being essential to become a successful coach?
ES. Being able to deal with people is essential and hopefully that is something that will help me transfer into becoming a successful coach. I’ve seen some excellent coaches over the years that never make it past youth or amateur level, as they just can’t deal with the personalities, manage or motivate players.
Thanks very much Elliott for such insightful answers, we wish you all the best in your recovery from injury and we look forward to hearing of your successes on and off the pitch.