Tom May on life after rugby

Former rugby pro Tom May made 248 appearances in the Aviva Premiership between 1999 and 2015, placing him third on the all-time list.  He shares his thoughts on life after rugby. 

Tomorrow I will wake up and will have to action Plan B.

For the last seventeen years, every week from September to May has been a treadmill of nutrition and condition – a series of weekly micro-programs of preparation for what lays ahead at the weekend. Wake, eat, train, gym, rest, sleep, repeat.

Even though my career started in the early days of the professional game, where my teammates were as likely to be lifting a pint as a weight on a Monday night, I've always been a self-disciplinarian. I've always believed that, at best, only the top 0.5-1% of a sport's participants get to 'make it' professionally. Having been lucky enough to earn a living from the game, I owed it to myself, my team-mates and the fans to prepare myself as best I could throughout the week. Only this would give me the best chance of eeking out all 100% of my natural ability every Saturday afternoon.

But six weeks ago, I played my last professional game of rugby. The chapter of my life that started with my debut at Newcastle at the age of 19, ended at 36 in Oxford with the final shrill of a referee's whistle. Just like that, Tom May, London Welsh captain became Tom May former rugby player. Unemployed. Between jobs. Freelancing. Call it what you like, the treadmill came to a shuddering halt. I had a finish date, my notice was served and the P45 was in the post.

So what now?

Luckily, like I said I've always been a self-disciplinarian. As such, I studied alongside my playing career and managed to get two degrees in management during my time in the North East. I've used this experience to develop a mentoring programme that will allow me to offer training courses inside UK's businesses keen to invest on their emerging talent. I value these qualifications every bit as much as my winner's medals and England caps, if not more. That's because, looking at the game in 2015, I don't think it's ever been more important for today's professionals to consider life after the game. Preparation for life after the game is as important as every gym rep, training exercise and pre-match meal.

Premiership rugby in 2015 is unrecognisable from the Premiership in which I debuted. Professionalisation has brought with nutritionists, dieticians, sports psychologists and much more to a constantly expanding backroom team. Today's player is both gazelle and wrecking ball, borne out of strength and conditioning training that ensures they can take down (and ride a tackle from) a 19st stone wing in full flight.

This professionalization has secured TV broadcast deals, ploughed cash into Premiership clubs, facilitated stadium improvements and swelled gate receipts. The upcoming Rugby World Cup will put the English game in the global shop window for all to see and we all hope Stewart Lancaster can repeat 2003 and ensure the Webb Ellis cup has an extended stay at HQ.

The game is booming, but in this golden era players walk more of a high-wire tight rope than ever before. It's science really. Bigger objects travelling at higher speeds will have greater impact upon collision. Concussions and separations are more common than ever before. Rugby collectively picked itself up and dusted itself down for too long, it's reassuring to see proper protocols introduced and adhered too.

Still with this medical knowledge comes uncertainty. That perhaps the global game's biggest star, George North had his long-term future questioned after four concussions in five months showed how quickly careers can be jeopardized when we have full sight of the game's long-term medical consequences. Similarly, the recent retirements of Anthony Allen, Ben Afeaki and Rory Watts-Jones in their twenties highlight the risks of the increasing physical game of 2015.

It is undoubtedly going to be harder for today's generation of players to be ask lucky as I was in being able to play to the age of 36. Almost as if this is recognised, rugby's biggest stars can rise to levels of fame and fortune quicker than in any other era of the game. Whist this is undoubtedly good news; they need to contingency plan for life after the game, as you never know what is around the corner. In being able to burn brighter than the stars of any previous generation, the sad truth is that they are unlikely to burn for quite as long.

Tom May made 248 appearances in the Aviva Premiership between 1999 and 2015, placing him third on the all-time list. Tom is now developing his mentoring and training programme, 'Be The Best You Can Be. Everyday' that will help develop the next generation of emerging talent across UK business and sport.

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