It is fair to say that the announcement from Wales and Gloucester winger, Louis Rees-Zammit, that he is giving up his successful rugby career for American football came as a shock to many in the rugby world. 

Even the Welsh national team coach, Warren Gatland, was said to be shocked at the news. It left Gatland, and the rest of the Wales set up, without one of their standout players, just weeks before the start of the 2024 Six Nations. 

A BBC report quoted Rees-Zammit saying his decision was “painstaking” and that he was looking to “explore a unique challenge that has the potential to diversify my skillset”. 

While planning for a second career is very much part and parcel of a professional sporting life, a jump of the kind Rees-Zammit has made, at the peak of his game and aged just 22, is almost unprecedented. 

It does raise some important points about just how important it is for you to forward plan and consider your own skillset outside rugby ahead of your eventual second career. 

The National Football League offers a clear pathway to a new career

Nearly all players in the American National Football League (NFL) have gone through the same journey to get there. They will have probably started playing at a young age, and then played in high school and college before being drafted by one of the NFL teams. 

So, for anyone like Rees-Zammit looking to play the game professionally who has not come through that structure, there will be an element, both literal and metaphorical, of running to catch up. 

Then there is the structure of the NFL itself. Unlike rugby, there are no club sides below the top level. Nor are there feeder teams for each franchise, as there are in the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball. 

But while the announcement from Rees-Zammit was sudden, it is clear the decision itself obviously was not.

He is taking full advantage of a relatively recent NFL innovation known as the “international player pathway” (IPP). This was designed to create a clear route into the game for elite athletes from other sports outside North America.

By going down this route, Rees-Zammit is giving himself every possible chance to succeed in his chosen second career and taking advantage of the training and career progression opportunities on offer. 

Although it is unlikely that your own second career will involve such an abrupt and radical shift, it is worth bearing in mind that, like Rees-Zammit, you need to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed. 

Read on to discover what you can learn from the prospective American football player.

There is no shortcut to second-career success

Although his move from rugby to the NFL is rare, Rees-Zammit is correct to recognise the importance of developing a new skillset to help him deal with the challenges he faces and maximise his chances of success.

In most second-career options, there are none of the shortcuts of the kind that the NFL provide with the IPP project. 

Indeed, even that project is no guarantee of future success and a glittering NFL career. Just eight players from the 2023 pathway intake ended up with an NFL contract, and only around 30 have done so since the IPP was started.

In reality, the value of experience and, where appropriate, business qualifications cannot be overstated.

Whatever your second career, developing the skills you need, learning from experts, and maximising all the opportunities you have to learn and develop is incredibly important.

It is never too soon to start planning ahead for life after rugby

At the age of just 22, Rees-Zammit is making a conscious choice to curtail his first career earlier than he may have expected when he started playing professionally. 

That naturally means that his time spent planning has been far shorter than the average professional, who would hope to continue playing at the top level for at least another seven or eight years. 

However, starting to plan for your second career at a similar young age can do you no harm at all. Indeed, it can be hugely positive to have a clear plan in place and take every opportunity to advance your planning and develop a second career before your first is over.

Doing so can also stand you in good stead in the event of your playing career ending prematurely.

It is important to consider all the financial aspects of your second career

In any consideration of your working life after your professional rugby career is over, financial issues have to figure highly.

For example, it is sensible to ensure you have a decent financial cushion behind you at the end of your playing days. This could help ease the transition into life after rugby so you can fully focus on your second career.

This fact highlights the importance of maximising your savings and building your retirement fund while you are playing, which can help reduce the pressure at the start of your new career.

You may find this especially important if you are building your own business or starting your second career on a lower income than you might have enjoyed as a player.

It reinforces how crucial it can be to plan ahead to help reduce the potential shock of a change of career, and have a dual career before you stop playing so you have done a lot of the hard work already.

It also helps underline the importance of getting specialist financial advice from a firm that understands the unique financial challenges faced by professional rugby players, and the need to plan for two careers.

At DBL, we understand those challenges and are ideally placed to help you build a robust financial plan. We can help you adapt that plan as your circumstances change and you transition from one career to another.

Get in touch

If you would like to talk through the financial aspects of your planned second career, then please do get in touch with us at DBL Asset Management.

Email or call 01625 529 499 to speak to us today.

Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.