In this online meetup, Ben talked us through his rugby career, the inspiration behind writing his best-selling book ‘Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional Rugby’, tips and principles for creating content, and much more.
Give us some background into your rugby career…
I grew up in Bath, a massive rugby city. Got picked up by Bath Rugby academy and captained them while at school. Then went to Newcastle University to do a degree in English Literature and got involved with the Newcastle Falcons a bit.
After I graduated, signed for Plymouth Albion full time in the Championship. I then had a brief stint in Australia before going France where I played for Stade Rouennaise for the last 4 years of my career. The book I wrote details my time in France heavily.
What was France like from a rugby perspective?
It’s something I always wanted to do. So crazy and emotional. It’s very disorganised and less professional. That’s good and bad. Something aspects of professional sport are too regimented. In France they don’t care about the conditioning and nutrition as long as you play well.
Every day we’d train in the morning and have a big lunch with the whole club, not just the players but all the staff and volunteers. That’s not something that happens in professional sport here.
There’s another side of it though. It could be frustrating when you’re hoping a player would take a more care of themselves or actually learn the plays you’re supposed to be running!
The book is a unique perspective of life in sport on ‘the edge’. What was the initial inspiration behind writing the book?
I was experimenting writing and wrote a piece about retiring from rugby which got good engagement on LinkedIn. Then someone offered me to do some blogging so that gave me extra practice and a platform to improvee. It formed the concept in my mind.
No one ever hears about fringe professional sports people, but numerically that’s most of the people playing. There are only 12 Premiership teams but loads outside. Most of the players you barely hear about have some crazy stories.
While the story is about me, I was hoping the book represents people I knew. Most popular rugby books are about someone whose achieved something incredible, with a big picture of them on the front and ghost-written. So I thought I’d do everything differently. I felt there was a gap in the market where I could be more direct rather than – for example – an England player who couldn’t be completely honest unless they were compromised.
I’m writing about people that no one has ever heard of. I can be more honest.
What has the process of writing a book taught you?
It was self-published, so that was a learning curve itself, but something I wanted to do so I could learn new skills. After leaving rugby you have lots of ‘soft skills’ like teamwork and leadership characteristics, but you lack ‘hard skills’ marketing, sales, copywriting, social media etc. It was a really good learning experience for me.
I needed to define myself by opposition by saying the book wasn’t like all the others.
We’re seeing the need for people to write and publish more. Do you have any tips or principles you live by?
Read a lot. And widely. I use an app called ‘Notion’ which helps me organise. Keep a bank of material you’re interested in and organised. If you can have content you find interesting, it’ll come through when creating content for others.
There’s so much content, whatever you create needs to be useful and entertaining.
Consume things that you like and don’t be bothered about where they came from. That’ll help you create something different with personality.
Where do you seek inspiration from?
Twitter is great for me. I find loads of interesting things to read through recommendations. I read a lot of fiction but apart from that try to go as wide as possible. If I find a creator or author I admire, I’ll go after everything they’ve written and consume it, trying to take the principles they follow project to project.
What’s next for you?
Write another book. There are certain themes I find interesting, like scholar athletes – people that pursue an intellectual, creative side of life, but also an active side as well.
I’d also love to write a novel at some point… but I’m not sure I’m quite ready yet!
What can businesses do for professional athletes coming out of the game?
Athletes have great energy and will always take feedback on to improve.
I see teams at a lower level adopting a dual career setup. Almost go back to the amateur era a little bit. They’ll live like a professional athlete but only train 2 days a week, then link up with a local business the other 2 days. That requires the athletes to go and find opportunities themselves.
Nottingham Rugby are exploring that direction. They know that they can’t pay their players loads of money, but can pay them a fee come into the gym and stay in good shape ahead of the weekend game. They’re also offering affiliate businesses for the players to create a sustainable career. That hybrid career is a good way forward.