Project 18

Becoming a Professional Athlete

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Exploring options - Becoming a professional athlete

This page looks at the challenges of being a professional athlete at eighteen and also links to more information on the World Class Programme as well as interviews with two un-funded athletes who are supporting themselves to race and train.

Being a true professional athlete and earning a living from the sport at eighteen has not as yet proved possible in the Olympic era for any British athlete and so we do not have case studies to share here. World level success in an endurance sport like triathlon takes time, with most athletes seeing their Triathlon peak in their mid to late twenties. This means an eighteen year old is, in almost every case, some considerable way off breaking into the higher echelons of the sport and the earning potential that comes with that.

While it is certainly possible for an eighteen year old athlete to live at home, or elsewhere, with free room and board and have a ‘full time’ training focus we would not advise that as being the best way forwards at this or any age.  

Non-sport related activity

There is a growing body of evidence in sport, both academic and anecdotal, to show that having a complete or ‘full time’ focus on your sport is not the best strategy for sustaining long term success in sport. While sport does require a single minded focus this can, if not properly balanced, lead to poor performance and/or an unhappy athlete and non sport related activities or positive distractions are   very important here. Those athletes who engage in planning for their future career or in doing some other non-sport related work, education or activity are likely to perform better and likely to have better mental health.

Our strong belief at British Triathlon is that better people make better athletes. A more rounded and developed person is more likely to be a happier, more engaged and higher performing athlete with the skills, knowledge and understanding to sustain their success in the long term.  Our suggestion would be that at eighteen you should be looking to balance exploring and realising your triathlon potential (in the long term) while simultaneously exploring your personal growth and development too. Balancing triathlon with other non-sport related pursuits, be that education or work, we believe will help hugely here. A focus on whole person growth will also ensure that whenever you do call time on triathlon moving on with your life is significantly easier.

The World Class Programme

As most will know as an Olympic sport Triathlon is part of the UK Sport World Class Programme (WCP). In simple terms Triathlon receives funding to support winning medals at the Olympic Games. Around 20 British triathletes, who the sport believes have the best chance of delivering present or future Olympic success, are supported at any one time and receive some funding towards their living and sporting costs.

You can find out more about the WCP here

Being a Self Sufficient Athlete

As being a true professional is only an option for the very best athletes in the world, and so few athletes receive any sort of funding from the WCP, we expand on what it is like to have a complete focus on aiming to achieve your triathlon potential while supporting yourself at the same time.

To better understand what this looks like, and see interviews with two un-funded athletes who are currently supporting themselves entirely to race and train reflecting on how they manage and the challenges that they face please click here.

Find out more

  • Setting up a training base at home here
  • What it is like being living and training as a self sufficient athlete here.
  • Part time work alongside triathlon training here.

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