Beating Pressure and Career Transition with Conrad Smith

In our fast-paced world, everyone feels pressured to be the best and to do their best. It's easy to succumb to worry and anxiety during this time. This week, a superstar athlete encourages us to reframe pressure as an opportunity. You may not be involved in the sports world, but you can still learn from it. For our guest, overcoming high-pressure situations boils down to two things: trusting in the preparation you've done and taking things one step at a time. 

Retired All Blacks player Conrad Smith joins us in this episode to talk about his experiences in the sporting world. He gives us a glimpse into his childhood and his career transition in and out of professional rugby. 

It's easy to make sports your whole identity if you're not careful, and Conrad details how athletes can avoid this trap. 

He also shares how we can equip ourselves to handle high-pressure situations.

If you want to hear about Conrad’s tales with the All Blacks and know how to be better at dealing with being pressured and career transition, this episode is for you. 

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Gain insights on the dangers of being too immersed in a sports bubble. 
  2. Learn how you can deal with feeling pressured.
  3. Understand the importance of adaptability in our fast-changing world.

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Episode Highlights

[02:59] Conrad’s Childhood

Conrad’s family used to move around until they settled at New Plymouth when he was six. His family was very close, as his parents always made time for him and his siblings. 

They were also supportive of both his academics and sports. Conrad spent most of his childhood playing sports and helping out on their family farm. 

[09:03] Conrad as a Young Sportsman 

Conrad wasn’t initially an overachiever when it comes to sports. During his time at school, rugby didn’t take up a huge portion of his life.

He didn’t feel pressured to play, unlike most kids involved in sports today. For that, he feels fortunate. Conrad’s very grateful that he was able to finish his law degree before he started playing professionally. 

[11:44] The Dangers of the Sports System

Nowadays, there’s an obsession with finding talent and training them hard from a young age. The rationale behind this is to give these kids the best chances of success. However, Conrad is sceptical about this approach.

He believes that balancing life and sports is crucial, especially because sports is a short-term career. ‘I think it's fine to keep a balance, and to play other sports, and to experience, just live a normal life. I think you can still excel.’

Many athletes end up going bankrupt or developing depression because they don't have a life outside of playing sports. ‘You have a crazy number of bankruptcy, crazy number of rates of depression because they haven't learned to live outside of their sport.’

[16:26] Staying Grounded

When you’re in a sports bubble, it’s easy to lose touch with reality. And especially if you’re handling a high-paying sports career, you can forget how real people live.

So, athletes need to stay grounded and not tie their identity with their sports. This way, you can land on their feet after the bubble bursts. 

Try to find other things that you enjoy and avoid the trap of coaching after your playing career ends and need to undergo career transition. ‘You have a lot of retired players that feel like they have to coach because they think it's all they know. The challenge, I suppose is, then of being careful not to fall into that trap.’

[29:39] On Career Transition

With the rapid changes in the world, we need to adapt to stay relevant. Understandably, it takes lots of courage to career transition. 

However, you can always find support when you open up to the people around you. ‘If it's a conversation you're just having in your own mind, you will never get anywhere. You just need to open up about it.’

And if you’re feeling like you can’t do career transition, remember: ‘Whatever you decide that you want to be, you can become.’

[33:06] Mental Health in Sports 

All athletes feel pressured with their sports—what’s important is how they deal with it. When you look at being pressured differently, you can see it as an opportunity. 

Also, take note that there's no quick fix for handling high-pressure situations. It's essential to find what works for you.

[36:38] How to Deal with Feeling Pressured 

Preparation is critical to help overcome feeling pressured. If you have done the prep work, all that’s left for you to do is execute. 

Don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger picture. Instead, focus on the minute details. As Conrad says: ‘The bigger the moments and the bigger the pressure, it's the funny thing, it's the more important that you focus on the smaller, minute detail.’

Lisa also chimes: ‘If you break it down into one more step, just one more, and then you just keep going and keep going. Then, invariably, that mindset or that thing that's in your head passes and then you're back in the game.’

[45:21] Conrad’s Experiences with the All Blacks

Conrad was playing for the Wellingtons when he was picked to play for the All Blacks. His fellow players and coaches told him not to feel pressured and encouraged him to have fun. 

For him, being an All Black never lost its glow. He acknowledges what the team means for the country. 

He believes that the All Blacks continues to perform well because the players uphold the team’s legacy. In particular, their jersey means so much to Conrad. Find out why when you tune in to the full episode! 

[52:51] The Future of Rugby

Now working as a lawyer in the player association, Conrad speculates that women’s rugby will see tremendous growth in the coming years. 

The women’s rugby players are more motivated by the sport. They want to reach more women and girls through it. 

Since this women's rugby is still a relatively small industry, there's not much effort to commercialise yet. This can play out to their advantage, similar to how small but nimble companies can overtake big industries.

[59:56] Conrad’s Advice to Parents and Children

It is much more harmful to shelter your children from sports. Let them explore, but remind them to stay grounded and balanced as they get more serious about playing. 

Also, be open to opportunities and changes.

About Conrad

Conrad Smith was a long-time player of New Zealand’s All Blacks and helped lead the team to the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups. He is widely known as “The Snake” for his ability to slip through tackles. At 38, he captained the Wellington-based Hurricanes in the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby league, then retired after the 2015 World Cup. 

He now serves as legal counsel and project manager for International Rugby Players, the global representative body for the sport. He is also the high-performance manager for Pau, a French club that competes in the Top 14, the highest in the country’s domestic league. 

Find out more about Conrad and his work at International Rugby Players

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To pushing the limits,

Lisa

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