From the boat to the boardroom

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Naomi Riches MBE, 2012 Paralympic Gold Medallist and Thomas Sport and Education Consultant tells us about her experience making the transition from elite sport to business.

‘Flick up C’, 'high I' and 'overshift' are words and phrases commonly used during psychometric assessment feedback sessions. Ten months ago they were part of a language I just did not understand. It would be like me saying 'Bow Loader', 'back stay' and 'catch timing' to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about rowing. The language used by Thomas International and that of the GB Rowing Team might be very different but the mindset and behaviours of the people speaking those languages are very similar. Both want to be the best in the world at what they do. 

I made the decision to retire from elite sport in September 2013 and whilst I knew it was the right decision, it left me in a terrifying place. I had no idea what my life was going to look like in a month, let alone a year and at that point I did not realise how much I had to offer the real world, the world beyond the GB Rowing Team. Winning a gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games opened many doors for me, however it was only when I looked back at my decade in sport that I realised how much more than just rowing it had taught me. Whilst weathering the storms and enjoying the blue sky moments I did not notice the other skills I was developing along the way: goal setting; working in a team; enjoying the successes; coping with the disappointments; and reviewing my own or the team’s performance.

It was a combination of the storm I weathered in 2010 that lead to my introduction to psychometric assessments, then meeting a man in my local pub, which sparked the thought process that lead to me working with Thomas International Sport.

In August 2010 I was beaten to a seat in the World Championships crew by less than a second, but the thought of quitting at that point was simply NOT an option. It was just two years until the London 2012 Paralympic Games; competing at the highest level in your sport and in front of a home crowd is something very few athletes get to do, yet it is every athlete's dream.

During the long and lonely autumn/winter of 2010 I changed – I had to. I was regularly training alone rather than in the squad environment, because the team were in New Zealand at the World Championships and then on their end of season break. I started to learn a lot about myself and part of that learning curve was completing a psychometric assessment, offered to me by the Performance Lifestyle Advisor who worked with the rowing team. I answered a series of slightly strange questions and what I received in return was a report describing me incredibly accurately using words I would never have thought of using. It told me how I behave, what environment I work best in, what motivates me, my fears and insecurities and in what environments I struggle. It did not just tell me about myself though; it also gave me an insight into how others might respond when I behaved in certain ways. 

My belief looking back at 2010 is that understanding myself and those around me was a key part of me making it back into the boat for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. It made me realise that without losing sight of who I was, I could still modify the way I behaved in certain situations to allow the people around me to get the best out of me – and for me to get the best out of them.  

As for the man in my local pub whom I mentioned earlier, he worked for Thomas International. When I understood what he was talking about, I explained to him that using psychometrics in 2010 had been a key part of my development as an athlete. Immediately I was introduced to the MD of Thomas International Sport and things started to fall into place. 

The possibility that I could use what I had learnt during my decade in sport to help others achieve their goals, through understanding themselves and those around them better, really appealed to me. 

It doesn’t matter what world you work in or what language you use – isn’t your aim, your dream and your goal to be the best you can be at what you do?