Sharon Laws – So you were just a cyclist?

Five of my old teammates – Nicole Cooke, Lucy Martin, Katie Colclough, Iris Slappendel and Alison Powers told me in detail about the skills they gained as a professional cyclist and how they now apply these to their new careers.

For Lucy Martin and Alison Powers, who are still involved in the cycling world, there are obvious parallels. As a coach Alison teaches the skills she learnt as a cyclist; Lucy, Digital and Communications Coordinator for the ORICA SCOTT cycle team, understands what has happened in the race and how to communicate it, how a rider feels directly after a race and how to manage media commitments. Although the careers of Katie (Physiotherapy Technical Instructor) and Iris (Designer) are unrelated to cycling they identified very specific skills gained which are directly applicable to their new jobs including goal setting, self-discipline and flexibility. Even Nicole, who now works in the corporate world far removed from cycling, highlighted some interesting similarities between the skills needed for both cycling and her job as a Management Consultant.  For more details about these riders and the main lessons they have learnt please read Part I of this post.



1. Preparation and perseverance

“Recces of courses, studying rivals’ recent results and structuring training to counter this, were all part of the planning process. Always, having done my absolute best in all areas of preparation, leaving no stone unturned, gave me confidence going into races. In addition, cycling required a resilience to persevere, to keep going when training was hard or there were the inevitable setbacks due to injuries or crashes. The same meticulous planning and preparation is required to get the most efficient output from a team (in the Monitor Deloitte consultancy company), especially when resources and time are limited and we are working to tight and inviolate deadlines or there are other constraints on resources.”  

Nicole Cooke

2. Teamwork and mentoring

“The team of riders who will line up together at the start of a race have different strengths and characteristics and it will need each rider to perform their role to give the team the best chance of success. Practicing teamwork drills in training or in races, and building that team spirit and confidence is a vital component of success, and over a season it is great to take turns supporting each other in races, as well as be a member of a developing team. I mentored team mates, led by example in training, and spent a lot of time talking through tactical scenarios so that my team mates would be able to recognise the emerging tactical patterns of races and, understanding these, knew how to give themselves more options in races, with often just a quick nod needed to put into action what we were both thinking and had practiced before. This is important in everything! Working together with others to crack a problem too great for any individual, passing on skills and knowledge to others or recognising when to ask for an expert or outside opinion, are a vital part of success in a career and everyday life, as a team and for personal development.” 

Nicole Cooke

3) Making decisions under pressure

“As a race evolved this was vital to success; the characteristics of a race could suddenly change due to an early or unexpected tactical move by a rival team, a puncture or crash. Quickly thinking through the best new tactical plan for our team, given the new situation, while racing at 50k/h and checking and communicating this to teammates or the sports director, was a critical skill. Trying to answer client’s (of Monitor Deloitte) big questions means a starting assumption about the type of analysis required, such that we can arrive at an answer with the best options for clients with the best supporting rationale. As each analysis reveals new information, it may prove or disprove the starting assumptions. Being comfortable with some ambiguity and being open to tweak our plan while keeping the final goal in focus helps keep us following the most important lines of analysis in order to arrive at the very best answers to our customer’s needs.”

Nicole Cooke

4) Working with different people 

Over the years I learnt to work with and understand so many different types of people, personalities, cultures, ages etc. and I think this has helped so much. Everyday I have to speak with somebody in the team whether it is a director, a rider, another member of staff. So to be comfortable speaking with a variety of people has really helped.”

Lucy Martin

5) Being adaptable

“In races sometimes things don’t always go to plan and I need to report on it, just like when I was a rider, I have to be adaptable and overcome adversities. This is a skill I developed and use a lot now when I am dealing with press and managing social content’” 

Lucy Martin

6. Organisational Skills 

“I have to be very organised and I have deadlines for everything I do and need to constantly be up to date with what has been happening in each race. As a rider I had to be organised with training and preparing for races so it is the same concept, it is essential for me to have good time management and also be disciplined in balancing out work tasks and prioritising.” 

Lucy Martin 

7. Goal Setting 

“An ability to set goals is a key part of being an athlete and is something that directly transfers to the work within a Physiotherapy department. It’s really important to understand a patient’s baseline and then set achievable goals to help and motivate them with their rehabilitation. Reflecting on the outcome of this work and seeking areas for change and improvement is also essential and something I believe transfers into many job roles that I have done, not just in Physiotherapy.” 

Katie Colclough

8. Being flexible

“A flexible working approach and being able to work or perform well under pressure are other skills that I believe should be considered for athletes when transitioning into a non-athletic role.”

Katie Colclough

9. Being focused & disciplined 

I can focus very well, I’m determined, I can work long and hard and I am a perfectionist. I also have no problem with giving myself discipline and to work alone. Since I work self-employed, most of the time from home, I don’t lie-in but have a pretty strict working regime.”

Iris Slappendel


10. Applying personal experience

Alison, who runs her own coaching company, explained that because she didn’t start bike racing until she was 25, she had to learn the training, the racing and the tactics, the teamwork, etc. from the very basic level all the way to world level. “All of this learning and personal experience has really helped me with my coaching and, now, teaching and riding with my new team, ALP Cycles Racing. Everything I learned in my cycling career is directly applied to both the coaching and the race team.”

My old teammates won prestigious jerseys and medals and have incredible memories from their successful cycle careers. What is, perhaps, less immediately apparent is the additional skills they picked up along the way – which weren’t just related to riding a bike fast. These qualities, developed as professional athletes, have proved invaluable in their new careers and I’m sure will mean they will just as successful off the bike as they were on the bike.

I’m very grateful to Nicole, Lucy, Katie, Iris and Alison for their contribution to these two posts ….. now I better get back to updating my C.V.!

CM Muller

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