Adam Dehaty was Northumbria University’s best player during my time at Newcastle University. He was a junior rugby star having played in the age group teams but was one of those obviously talented players who looked like he was playing the game at a leisurely pace, able to see opportunities manifest before others and take advantage of them with his quick feet and sleight of hand.
He got a contract at his home club Newcastle Falcons and was part of an excellent Middlesex 7s winning side that swept the board at Twickenham. We subsequently played together at Blaydon with a variety of rugby characters including future professionals Andrew Fenby and Scott Riddell, as well as Adam’s brother Matt.
Adam moved out to Hong Kong to play for Kowloon RFC and has had a fascinating journey since, developing his passions for performance and mental skills informed by his experiences of professional sport and its challenges.
How did you end your career?
I was 23 and having played England 16/18’s and U21s, I was into my 10th year of serious rugby. I had a recurring back injury and the ability to sustain the volume of training required for the top level was vanishing. My contract ran out at the end of the year and I was advised to decrease my training volume. I was looking at a 10 year career ending at a young age.
Were you happy to end your career when you did? Why?
I find that difficult to answer as a yes or no. I was disappointed that the reality of playing for England or having a long career as a pro athlete had vanished although I had a sense of relief that the pressure I was putting on myself to meet the aforementioned goal was over.
These feelings fluctuated over time and in retrospect, what I should have acknowledged is that the source of my self esteem and daily accomplishment had run dry. This was actually what I found most difficult to address.
How did you prepare for retirement while you were playing?
I had acquired a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology and also picked up a personal training qualification. The plan was to become a sport psychologist. Unfortunately the reality of this is that it is not viewed with the credibility it deserves.
Whilst physios and conditioning coaches are used in the lower leagues, getting a paid position in sport psychology, even in the top flight, is a stretch. The beaten path for this is to go into research or lecturing but I was determined to put theory into practice and not stay behind the books.
Are you still involved in rugby in any capacity?
I am currently working with a few individual pro rugby players as well a few other sports in the field of sport psychology. I still enjoy watching the game and following the international scene. Although my interest in who wins has diminished, I appreciate the skill wherever it comes from.
Do you compete in another way now?
I do compete although more in an individual sense, I enjoy setting goals and challenging myself to accomplish them. While I miss competing within a group and having a common goal, it’s a difficult commitment to manage.
What did you do immediately for work?
I got the opportunity to move to Hong Kong. The idea was that I could get away with only two training sessions per week whilst transitioning into other work. Hong Kong is a common transition location for rugby players, with most guys typically moving into banking or recruitment. I decided to stick with sports and became a certified Strength and Conditioning coach.
I worked within Crossfit, international sport and with the odd personal training client. I did this for 5 years. It was a good way to transition out of professional sport although I knew it wasn't what I wanted to continue with throughout my career.
How did it go?
The first two years were very tough. While the club supported me with housing, I earned little to no money. I suffered a fractured ankle for which I had to get support to pay for the surgery and felt very lost.
There were many other players transitioning out of rugby there, one of whom was a close friend and captain of our club David Tait, who represented Scotland at 7’s and Sale Rugby. He unfortunately took his own life in December 2012 for reasons we don’t understand.
Having been the person on the scene to identify his body it’s safe to say it impacted me in a way that maybe still hasn’t fully manifested. This took me on a 2-3 year process of being determined to address mental health and more specifically for myself, ask why sport isn’t developing mental skills as much as the physical. I’ve been questioning what’s missing from coaching in sport which brings me full circle to my passion around sport psychology.
What are you doing now?
I currently work for Nike in the Netherlands developing their holistic health strategy within EMEA. I was fortunate that its core tenets of Sport, Nutrition, Mindset and Rest and Recovery were all topics I had experience and education in.
As a passion project I developed a company called Get Ahead Mindset, a platform to address the lack of coaching and tracking of athletes’ mindset within sport, with the ability to flag and highlight fluctuations and consistent decreases in Confidence, Motivation and Focus.
This is not only to increase performance but also to ensure mental skills are being coached to athletes who report it as an area for improvement, as currently happens with fitness tests or skills sessions.
My goal is to not only provide a support structure and clear process for athletes to hold their hand up and address their mental skills, but also to ensure that they lead the conversation on mental health being the inspirational, cultural architects that they are.
Is this something you see yourself doing long term?
Yes, I am passionate about health and wellbeing. Contributing towards an awareness of mental health as well as ensuring it is improved from where we are now is important to me.
I recently heard “Don’t look for a job or a career, identify your calling” and this is mine.
What does it provide for you apart from money?
My role at Nike and my project with Get Ahead Mindset are both intrinsically driven. I knew when I went to Hong Kong that I wanted to stay within sports or fitness so I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for the role and the responsibility; they give me the means to make a difference.
What support did you receive with your transition?
I had great support from family both financially and emotionally. There were probably two occasions since finishing playing rugby that I would have put myself under the banner of being depressed and my family were incredibly supportive. I also had a family away from home in Hong Kong that grew very strong following the circumstances we encountered.
Would you say that you have transitioned?
I have now certainly transitioned into something that I am more passionate about than even playing international rugby. That said, I know first hand how easy these opportunities can be taken away so I’m extremely grateful for it and will keep “both hands on the ball”.
Did you experience any mental health issues as a result of retiring?
Yes, Two occasions. Firstly when I retired I was working within the same city as a personal trainer and found I was surrounded by reminders of missed achievements and unfulfilled ambitions. I also had a dramatic reduction in both social group and opportunities for accomplishments.
It’s easy for me to say I was unfulfilled and depressed although I must stress that this is relative to the rapid change from previous circumstances and a lack in the mental skills to address the self image, expectations and lack of gratefulness. Hong Kong was as much an escape as it was an opportunity.
The second was prior to the death of my friend. I was questioning what I was doing on the other side of the world, struggling for money and playing the sport I held some bitterness towards, until I got a new perspective on life.
What has sport given you?
Sport has given me inspiration, engagement, purpose, fulfilment and continues to do so.
What’s your best memory from your career?
My favourite memory was schoolboy rugby. Detached from any pressures of career or expectation I was playing with an intrinsic desire and love for the game. I recall we beat a team in the Daily Mail cup that we were expected to lose. With nobody watching other than a few parents and some teachers, we celebrated like we won the World Cup.
If you had one piece of advice for retiring athletes, what would it be?
Appreciate what you do and still can have.