You can do all the research you want into an idea or a plan. However, often the best way of truly understanding and figuring out if it is for you is by taking inspiration from the words of someone who has already been there, done it and got the t-shirt.
With that in mind, anyone considering doing a sports gap year abroad should sit up and take note about what Olympic gold medalist and MBE George Nash has to say. The Team GB rower, who has won another Olympic bronze, three World titles and two European crowns to add to his Rio gold, was helped on his way to future greatness by going on a sports gap year with Sport Lived coaching rowing in Melbourne, Australia.
We were lucky enough to speak to George about his memorable and invaluable experiences in Australia.
What made you decide to do a gap year with Sport Lived?
I obviously loved rowing and I knew I wanted to travel before University, to make the most of a 12-month period I’d never get again. One day I received a letter from Sport Lived and decided straight away to go for it. Before I knew it, I was in Melbourne coaching rowing with incredibly friendly people at Scotch college. At just 18/19 years of age it was an amazing environment to be in.
What are your lasting memories of your Sport Lived programme?
I’ll always remember the great, rewarding feeling of making even the smallest of impacts on the sporting careers of other people. I’ll also remember the superb opportunities that materialised when I was there. For example, when I was coaching I was persuaded by one of the coaching staff to join a local rowing club. Whilst there I got to row against people I’m racing today! One day I was comfortably beaten in a race and it not only caused me to adjust my technique but gave me renewed drive – my time in Melbourne showed me how hard I would need to work to get to the top. I ended up doing a PB before the end of the season.
How did your experience in Australia shape your approach to life upon your return?
Another great part of doing this type of gap year abroad is that it is about more than just the sport – it plays a big part in shaping you as an individual. You get exposed to completely new cultures and ways of life.
In my case, I quickly realised that Australians have a very relaxed yet positive and proactive attitude towards life, something that transfers into their sport. They are the epitome of work hard, play hard. The time I spent in Melbourne certainly broadened my mind, allowed me to meet new people and made me properly stand on my own two feet for the first time.
It also enabled me to put things into perspective, which helped when I returned to England. For example, I used to think getting from one side of my hometown of Guildford to the other was too far, yet out in Australia I used to think nothing of the three-hour journey I had to take by train and bus just to go surfing at weekends!
What are your top tips for anyone going abroad to row/coach?
Have an open mindset from day one and look to learn as much as you can. Before going to Melbourne all I’d ever done was row, and I thought I knew everything about the sport, but the first session I did was very different to what I thought it might be. Pick up tips, don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep testing and pushing yourself to make sure you really do make the most of the opportunity.
Additionally, if you’re planning to coach like I did, make sure you prepare as much as you can beforehand and get some coaching experience under your belt, especially as you won’t have loads of time out there to learn it all on the job. I was lucky enough to coach all types of standards in Australia, which is something I would also recommend if you want to coach abroad. More variety means more learning and more pushing of the boundaries of your coaching ability. And most importantly, don’t forget your sun cream!
Favorite item to take with you on camps/competitions?
My kindle was definitely my favourite item - camps and competitions are great fun and rewarding but it’s important to be able to switch off and relax during them when you can. Chocolate is always good to have as well!
Are you still in touch with anyone from your programme?
I can’t emphasise enough what a wonderful social experience a sports gap year is. Especially when you’re with lots of other young athletes experiencing the same thing as you for the first time in their lives.
And that’s another real benefit of a Sport Lived programme – you get to meet and spend time with all the other Sport Lived participants. There were eight people in the building where I lived and all of them were there with Sport Lived. You get to create relationships and memories together to keep for the rest of your lives. We all stay in touch and try to reunite when we can, to recreate the ‘Melbourne spirit’ that we had Down Under. If we could somehow live together again, we’d do it in an instance.
What has been your rowing career highlight to date?
Winning a gold medal is the pinnacle of our sport, so being able to do so at the Rio Olympics has to be the highlight. It was extra special because we became Team GB’s fifth successive men’s four winners. Having said that, winning a bronze in the Men’s Pair at London 2012, in front of our own fans at such an incredible Olympics, will always stick in the mind. It was a dream come true to win an Olympic medal for the first time, especially as I didn’t think we’d even make the final. It was a euphoric moment.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about rowing abroad?
Take your first step and just go for it. And when you’re out there work hard but relax and have fun. You’ll find yourself running around at 90mph all the time but with a smile on your face. On a practical level, learn to cook before you go out there, or you’ll just end up eating lamb chops and mashed potato like I did!