Matt Perry won 36 caps for England, three for the Lions in Australia in 2001, and made 221 appearances scoring 561 points for Bath Rugby between 1995 and his enforced retirement in 2007, at that point the Club’s longest serving player.
I played with Matt during his final season as a professional, where despite his injury problems and far less time on the field than he was used to, he was never anything but welcoming, helpful and good company.
Since then, Matt has been a great help with my own transition from playing rugby but mostly he runs his own business Transition 15, coaching high performance teamwork, leadership and group dynamics to businesses and individuals.
How did you end your career?
I was 29 and injury was taking its toll on me. I had an ongoing back problem from the age of 26-27. The end of contract was coming up, I had had a testimonial so it seemed the right time. It fitted well.
I did have an opportunity to go to France with Castres but I wasn’t fit enough and didn't fancy it. I didn’t feel that I would be able to give the best of myself and it didn’t sit right with me.
I found it depressing after having a good week’s training, going from feeling good physically to feeling bad before a game. I was always mitigating my symptoms towards the end, taking painkillers and the like and I felt like it wasn’t worth it.
Were you happy to end your career when you did? Why?
That point felt like a natural end to me and I was happy to. I didn't want to hang on in there and I felt that would have been the case. It was a clean end of in that it was the end of my contract and I spent my whole career at one club. I’m proud of that.
How did you prepare for retirement while you were playing?
We were a bit of a test generation in that we turned pro while we were playing and everyone was feeling their way into it. We had no support and from about 2005, I felt rugby was on a downward trajectory. Wages and ownership seemed unsustainable.
Aside from some night classes in business development, I did my retirement preparation when I finished playing. I met my business partner and invested in myself. I took courses in leadership and coaching and upskilled myself.
I feel that you have to train yourself and players underestimate to what extent they’ll need it. I felt like I was training myself for 2-4 years after I stopped playing.
This helped me go from someone who was process driven to now where I feel that I’m more idea driven, more outgoing as a businessman where I had been very coachable and introverted as a teammate. I have to be outgoing now as running my own business means that it’s on me to sell and network.
It’s an ongoing journey but I really believe that you can modify and change behaviour and habits to realise your passions.
Are you still involved in rugby in any capacity?
I do some radio commentary and sometimes go on podcasts. For 6 years I commentated for SkySports and Eurosport which was good fun with a lot of weekends away. It got a bit full on and I look forward to weekends to myself now. I’ve recalibrated in retirement where before, the weekend was when I was used to working. Now I’m just a spectator.
Do you compete in another way now?
Nope. I compete in business; the big competition!
What did you do immediately for work?
I joined the Wilsher group and trained on the job. I was out networking but I also began co-designing training programs and delivered them to clients like Visa. We got a big contract with M&S and then I decided that I needed some corporate experience. I started out training and consulting before I went to work for Monitise which is in mobile payments.
How did it go?
I learned loads, some seriously big lessons about corporates. I also learned a lot about people, finance, the city and living away from home with a short term goal. That time up in London changed my whole outlook on business and now I try to be present every day. It’s a journey and opportunity.
I did think I’d go for an amount of time and earn an amount of money. I found that it’s not about that. You should look at it the other way round; passion gives you resilience when the times are tough, when you’re on the floor, that resilience when you’re at your lowest helps you get back up and succeed. If you’re not passionate then you won’t do it, you can just give up and go and work somewhere else.
It’s about finding something that you're passionate about - genuinely passionate about - that you can think of as if it’s not work. I was intrigued by ‘what is business, what is good business, how do you run a business, how do you grow a business?’
Have you answered those questions?
My business Transition15 is my answer. We coach businesses to improve their teamwork and processes, growing their team dynamic and subsequently increasing the value of their business.
People and teamwork facilitate business success and I help people to find value and meaning in their day to day.
I was interested in coaching when I was playing. When I finished playing it kept coming back to me. Maybe if I started coaching in business I could learn about business process; I did it and wanted to run my own business as an ultimate goal and now I’m here doing it at 42.
Is this something you see yourself doing long term?
Yes big time. I love helping other businesses grow and growing my own business at the same time.
What does it provide for you apart from money?
It gives me so much; risk, accountability, freedom, a learning experience every day. It’s like that nervousness before the game for me now, thinking about what will happen down the line and planning for the future. People get stuck on the corporate treadmill and I’m happy to not be on it.
Being responsible for other people, product and service, cashflow, budgets, clients, and adding value. You’re constantly on the pitch, looking for answers. It’s liberating, pure accountability. You have to learn quickly on the job, it’s not safe, it’s risky, what keeps me up at night are where will we be in the future, like when you’re nervous before a game but you trust your instinct, your ability and confidence to develop something.
What support did you receive with your transition?
Would you say that you have transitioned?
Yeah; it wasn't too bad all in all. Not too long after retiring I went through a divorce which was much harder. I thought I was doing the right thing in pursuing some of my goals and I wasn’t. I was a bit gung ho and I got that wrong. It cost me a lot.
Did you experience any mental health issues as a result of retiring?
It’s now quite a common concern but it wasn’t in vogue then, not such a concern. It was a destabilising and uncertain period but financially it wasn’t too bad.
What has sport given you?
A network of trusted people, resilience, a decade of fun and being physically fit in a trusting environment. The setbacks were ok, it was mostly fun but also quite uncertain. It’s given me an ability to deal with paradox, to know what it is and to be able to separate what’s going on in life when I need to perform. This is key to what we coach now in our business; the ability to deal with paradox and uncertainty.
I’ve learned that if you jump into opportunity then things will happen, tap into my intuition rather than be too logical about everything.
Sport requires full commitment and I’ve realised that extends to beyond the end of it. If you want something then jump into it; if you realise you don’t then that’s fine, get out of it.
What’s your best memory from your career?
Getting put on the board at Lambridge after my first First XV game for Bath. That board was a big thing; there was a core of 80-100 players who would work hard to get selected, firstly for the Spartans, then Bath United and eventually the First XV. Getting on the board was the culmination of that journey.
It was incredibly tough and competitive as anyone could turn up and try out. You’re hanging in there and learning as people wilt around you. It was an amazing environment.
If you had one piece of advice for retiring athletes, what would it be?
I’d say work out how to plan. Learning how to actually make a proper, actionable plan is fundamental. Make it one page, keep it iterative and agile and build on it. You’ll be able to build toward something and break down how to get there far easier than if you just fly blind.
Genuinely go on a journey of finding something you're passionate about. If you're not passionate about it then don't do it. It won’t work out and you’ll be looking for something else. You're better off on a longer journey to something you do want to do rather than prioritising something else in the short term.
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