At the age of 34 Johnny Leota has his sights firmly set on the future. The experienced Sale Sharks centre has been busy preparing for a successful transition from rugby.
With a degree under his belt, the Samoan international has also been gaining valuable work experience in local schools and has been producing a regular blog to offer advice and support to fellow players. We sit down with Johnny to find out more.
You recently graduated from the RPA’s BA Business Leadership & Management degree through Northumbria University, how did you find the experience? It was a big learning curve for me, and I’ve gained so much from the experience. As a kid studying was something I didn’t take much interest in. I wasn’t very good at it and I didn’t feel like I needed to. From this experience, I can honestly see why it’s such a brilliant thing to do. It has helped me understand that I can achieve things away from rugby and given me a focus and motivation to succeed. It’s nice knowing that I can put my mind to something and achieve the results I want, as well as cementing plans and goals for my future post-rugby.
What aspect of the degree did you find the most beneficial? It’s taken an enormous amount of stress away from my career going forward after rugby. It’s awesome to know I have completed a degree and gained a qualification that will hopefully come in use when I do decide to retire. I would love to become a PE teacher post-rugby and having this degree will make that goal so much easier to work towards.
Juggling the degree around your professional rugby career, how did you find the balance? I’m not going to lie, I did struggle. However, looking back I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. It was extremely beneficial, I had to learn along the way, gaining valuable insight on how best to juggles priorities, and deliver the required assessment on time. I was very lucky to have a great group of boys at Sale who were studying at the time too and were terrific in making sure we motivated each other throughout the course. There were a few moments when I was close to pulling out, especially during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and they were straight on my case, encouraging me to continue and giving me ideas on how to handle the stress. Without their support and the dedication of my RPA Personal Development Manager, John Millington, this would not have been possible.
You have also been undertaking work experience at a local school, can you touch on this? Yes, the opportunity came through talking to my PDM John. We sat down, went through my interests and goals for life after rugby, and although my long-term goal is to be a rugby coach, I found that PE teaching was where I potentially saw my future in the short-term. From there he put me in touch with one of his contacts at a local college, and after having a chat with him I began going into the school once a week on my days off. It has been a great insight, I have learnt a huge amount from the opportunity. Being able to shadow the teachers, watch how they deliver their classes and interact with the students, has not only been massively interesting but also very enjoyable.
During last season you started writing an online blog, what was the inspiration behind this? Early last season I suffered by second career ACL injury. It was brutally tough, and I didn’t know if at the age of 33 that meant my career was over. However, despite the uncertainty it gave me an opportunity to refocus my thoughts and start exploring other things. Having been through the process previously I knew I needed to keep my brain ticking over away from the intensity of rehab. So, I decided to start writing a blog, touching on my experience of rehab, the emotions and difficulties you can face, the stages of transition and why it’s important to keep positive and motivated towards your next goal. It’s been a great thing to do and been an enjoyable new interest for me. I have spent loads of time speaking to former players, picking the brains of guys who have been through similar injuries, faced long-term recoveries, been forced to retire and who have experienced their transition from the game. Hopefully by producing my blog I can help fellow players who are facing periods of difficulty in their careers and be there as a voice of support.
To read Johnny’s blog please visit: rugbyyarns.wordpress.com