Preparing for life after sport: The Awareness Ladder
The commonwealth games has now ended but before it started, the retirement of track cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel (left) caused a bit of a news story. Wendy announced that she would be returning to dentistry where (as a 30 something woman) she would be treated as an equal. Along with her experiences at the 2012 Olympic games, this illustrates our concept of the awareness ladder perfectly.
Dentistry is a fine profession but it’s not dependent on a previous career in high level sport.
The awareness ladder is a concept where you use what you have done in sport to reach as wide a group a people as possible.
Many minority sports (like track cycling) are complicated and the small amounts of TV airtime they receive mean that there are large groups of the public who donít have the time and/or inclination to get familiar with all the intricacies and tactics of a sport.
To move up the awareness ladder means that you need to do something or be somebody that a more mainstream population CAN understand and get to grips with.
This could be sport related (more of that in a moment) or novelty related.
The Brownlee brothers being the most obvious example of this. Few members of the general public would be triathlon experts but many more can relate to two brothers racing each other.
Taoriba Biniati (featured yesterday) has a whole back story behind her. Coming from a very poor country, that will be taken away by global warming in the next few years. Comes to one of the toughest environments in sport (professional boxing) in one of the toughest cities in the Commonwealth (Glasgow).
People can relate to that underdog mentality very easily and this shows that the awareness ladder is not dependent necessarily on success in sport.
Returning to Wendy Houvenaghel and the sport related aspect of rising up the awareness ladder.
The story goes that Wendy was reserve rider in the women’s team for the team pursuit. (The team pursuit is the event where two teams start at opposite sides of the track and effectively chase each other).
The rules were that only riders who actually rode get medals. (Unlike say unused substitutes in say football).
Breaking world records in every round – there was no need to call on Wendy.
EXCEPT according to Wendy, when one of the riders was sick after the semi final and before the final and that the team management nor the other riders were very reluctant to call on Wendy to come into the final.
What can we learn about this ?
30 something Awareness ladder worked example
The competing riders knew (maybe inadvertently) that by breaking world records in every round AND THEN winning the final would secure their place in wider public consciousness.
Young, telegenic women succeeding in an aggressively marketed (in the UK) sport gave them something they would be able to use when deciding what to after sport. They are an ad-mans dream. The whole chat show followed by celebrity game show pathway awaits them.
Why would they want to jeopardize this by letting a (in her own words) 30 something woman into the mix?
As a result – despite a series of wins and success stretching back a LONG WAY – (long before her team mates started competing) – Wendy is way down the awareness ladder and she would be stuck in cycling – as a pundit, coach or commentator if she hadn’t picked up the dentistry thing. BECAUSE cyclists and only cyclists understand what she has done.
Note – the awareness ladder is not going out and having a good time or being deliberately controversial. (Although Mike Tyson and in fact most top level boxing in general are a great example of this).
It is the deliberate strategic use of some event or thing sport related to achieve success afterwards.
Joanna Roswell having alopecia is a great awareness ladder feature in its own right…
Jonathan is an ironman triathlete and a qualified athletics coach as well as being the author of The Crucial Decision www.thecrucialdecision.com and can be contacted via www.sharp-end-training.co.uk