Robin Hislop Exclusive: "What happened at Wasps made me realise I could be doing even more to prepare for life after rugby"

Robin Hislop has recently secured a return to Edinburgh
©David Howlett

When the news broke that Wasps would be going into administration, hooker Tom Cruse described the moment as 'brutal.'

His teammate Robin Hislop echoed that sentiment. On LinkedIn, the 30-year-old went on to say 'The effect this has on people's lives just doesn't seem fair.'

His playing career had hit a full stop.

In October of last year, Hislop was one of 167 players and staff to be made redundant by Wasps, and his post on social media saw him inundated with supportive interactions and messages.

Hislop had worked his way to the top-flight following seven years of playing in the Championship and after moving to the Midlands back in 2021, memorable moments in the Premiership were surely to come.

However, his world would completely change and the Scot was left at a crossroads, uncertain of his next steps.

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Just over a week after he had left Wasps, his former club Saracens offered him an immediate route back into the game. He signed a short-term deal but having experienced what it was like to have everything he had known taken away from him, thinking about his long-term future and life after rugby became more important than ever.

"When your club goes into administration and you have a short-term contract, you feel like you might need to do this [focus on life after rugby] pretty soon," Hislop tells TRU.

"For me, the aim, and I guess like everyone, is to provide the best standard of living for my family. I picked up the Saracens gig pretty quick and it has been brilliant but at Wasps, I was being proactive about thinking about life after rugby but what happened made me realise I could be doing even more."

If you visit Hislop's LinkedIn profile, his recent posts - including one where he announces his return to Saracens - show how seriously he is taking transitioning from a rugby player into the 'real world.'

The abruptness of what happened at Wasps led to Hislop getting in touch with Ian Kennedy. At the start of 2022, Kennedy left his role as the sales director of a FTSE 250 business. "I came away from there deciding that I wanted to take a break to decide what I wanted to do next," he tells TRU.

"In my mind, I'd always thought there was a big skills gap in commercial roles and I have always been a big believer in recruiting for attitude and not for skill."

And in January 2023, Kennedy co-founded the company Second Peak Performance which is aimed at supporting athlete career transition. "In life, I am a big believer in you never want to get to the cliff edge or that crossroads," adds Kennedy.

Second Peak Performance was then suggested to Hislop by Cruse: "Him [Cruse] and Ian used to play together back in the day for Stockport," Hislop says. "There are a lot of companies who focus on transition but in my opinion, they do it very poorly. I said to Tom if he [Ian] is going to do it, I'll have a talk with him but he has to make sure what he wants to do is good."

If you were judging Hislop's thoughts on Second Peak Performance purely by his activity on LinkedIn, it is safe to say Kennedy has made a good start. "I did a bit of a cringe LinkedIn post asking to connect with people in the sales world as I've worked for five/six years with RexClub," continues Hislop.

"A few companies reached out and one rang me and I spoke to a bloke for 20-25 minutes. They were on about looking at my CV, making it specific to sales and putting me in touch with companies. The same bloke then messaged me on LinkedIn three or four days later with a prospective message and I replied with something like, 'I spoke to you last week on the phone!'

"That was p*** poor whereas with Ian, it has been completely different and the way he and Second Peak Performance focus on elements you want to work on has been very useful so far."

The demise of Wasps and Worcester - combined with the news that a record number of Premiership players were left without contracts last summer - accelerated the idea of Second Peak Performance to the front of Kennedy's mind. The recent disputes in Wales has also highlighted how fragile a career as a rugby player can become.

Kennedy - along with co-founder Andrew Stringfellow - wants Second Peak Performance to provide a safe space for athletes to explore their next career choice at their own pace. Crucially for Hislop, the flexibility allows him to focus on his rugby as well as trying to navigate the next stage of his life.

"Ian is using his background to help athletes get into the corporate and business world," Hislop explains. "What their point of difference is he is not promising that he will get them a role in agriculture or something.

"He doesn't know that world. That's where a lot of these transition companies fall down. They want to help you with everything, but having that bit of clarity has been important to me.

"Rather than doing everything and doing it half-hearted, how Second Peak Performance goes about it is the most helpful way to go in my experience because I am still able to focus on my rugby but have their support as and when I need it.”

Hislop's situation is not unique which is why Second Peak Performance treats athletes individually, putting their next steps at the centre of their thinking.

Key to this is psychometric testing which allows Second Peak Performance to pinpoint when an athlete is at their most relaxed to when they are under the most extreme pressure.

"Conversations with athletes then emerge and we can then come up with a working hypothesis," Kennedy explains. "We think we have come up with eight areas which we can focus on from the common traits which are:

  1. Discipline and Focus 
  2. Communication and Feedback 
  3. Resilience  
  4. Clarity of thought and decision making under pressure   
  5. Team focussed Leadership 
  6. Passionate  
  7. Growth Mindset  
  8. Wellbeing 

"They are all traits which are highly transferable into business from sport and by using this, we can find an area where the player can land which suits his or her's strongest attributes. They've been in environments that simply money cannot buy. They have seen things and done things and looked at things differently to the normal person that will be on the stack of CV's.

"It is probably a little bit daunting for them because they are not used to that commercial environment. People may expect these kind of super athletes who have had great careers, been on TV, and played in front of thousands to fall out of sport but actually in a period of their life which is probably one of the most difficult transitions that they face, they have to work it out all on their own. We are hoping to try and help them and connect them.

"What we don't want these guys to do is come out and feel desperate that they need to take the first job. We want them to recognise their transferable skills and build a story out of their playing career."

To achieve this, Kennedy is hoping Second Peak Performance can partner with businesses that are #OpenToAthletes. They then want to arrange panel days and workshops/work experience which expose an athlete to the corporate world while also allowing potential employers to recognise how valuable their attributes are.

Kennedy emphasises how difficult it can be for a rugby player to redefine themselves but he is full of praise for Hislop's approach and attitude.

Even before linking up with Second Peak Performance, Hislop had gained his level three coaching and also had plans to move into sales, specifically targeting FMCG [Fast-moving consumer goods], including categories such as food and beverage.

But off the back of the 'cringe' LinkedIn Post he mentioned earlier, Hislop was invited to go down to a medical devices company: "I didn't know anything about medicine apart from the fact my wife is a paediatrician but I absolutely loved it," Hislop says.

"The thought that you can go in, actively help people, you're actually in the theater with the surgeons where you are learning and you can make some decent money, that really appealed to me." Medical sales soon became an area of exploration. 

Hislop admits being in a position of "knowing what I want to do next" is helpful and his progression towards a possible career in medical sales has been elevated by Second Peak Performance assisting him with "the nuts and bolts" such as working on his CV.

"I have been proactive with speaking to people in the medical world and networking," says Hislop. "I am quite comfortable with reaching out and connecting with people but I didn't really know how to make my CV or my LinkedIn page better so that has been brilliant. You don't think about those things but they are so important."

In the case of Hislop, Kennedy is pleased because - along with his studious mindset - the prop- forward recently signed a two-year contract with Edinburgh, allowing Second Peak Performance to begin mapping out the potential next steps.

"Two months ago, he doesn't have a club for next season," Kennedy says. "Now he is at Edinburgh. What we can put together now is what we are going to do over the next 12 months with him.

"He is in quite a niche area and in a way, the search for that next step is easier for him now. Now we need to pick up the phone and have some conversations with people who run those commercial teams in those medical businesses to let them know he is around.

"I think his attitude is displayed by a lot of the guys because I suppose it is having the attitude in the right direction I think that is what we have helped him with. Lots of players are highly driven, very competitive, very focused people because they have got to where they are in the sport but it is putting them in a place where they actually start thinking about transition.

"For these guys who especially end up in contracts at pretty well-established clubs, what a great opportunity. He can use his networks, speak to sponsors, use his voice, we can help him plan through how he is going to do that and how he is going to attack it while also playing rugby so I am really chuffed for him."

Transitioning out of elite sport - and rugby in particular - is a recurring theme. Hislop says the work of The RPA [The Rugby Players' Association] has been beneficial to him, but he 100 per cent sees the value of external companies such as Second Peak Performance.

"What it has allowed is for me to focus on still playing but I know what I want to do," Hislop reflects. "Next steps, I am keen to build up my network and get some work experience and any advice from people."

Hislop's story shows that in a sport where careers can seemingly be cut short in the blink of an eye, support from companies such as Second Peak Performance can help players with their transition to life after rugby.

For any businesses or athletes interested in transition please 

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