Former centre and wing, Dafydd James, was a reassuring presence and a formidable attacking force during a critical period for the Welsh national rugby side. From the late 90s through to the end of his international career in 2007, the former Bridgend favourite approached the game with a level of athleticism that stood out amidst a rugby culture struggling to free itself from the sluggishness of the amateur game.
For James, whose try helped the British and Irish Lions overcome Australia in 2001, thorough preparation was fundamental to success at the highest level. But the Wales and Lions legend admits that retirement from professional sport was one challenge that took him by surprise.
We caught up with the ex-winger to see how he has tackled the one opposition that all athletes must one day face.
1) To what extent did retirement cross your mind during your playing days?
I didn’t consider retirement during my playing days because I was very focused on being the best I could be, preparing for the games and seasons ahead. Having said that, I did initially focus on my education and got a degree in electrical engineering at Swansea University. When I was playing the plan was to go into coaching, but events took an unexpected turn and suddenly retirement was on the cards and I didn’t really have plans in place to support a career transition.
2) Was retirement a daunting prospect?
Not initially, no. I suppose if you don’t think about things then you can’t really be scared by them. Having said that, I really wasn’t prepared for hanging up my boots. I was unlucky with injury and suddenly retirement came about all too quickly. To be honest I felt that I had another few years left in the tank at the top level, but that’s the way it goes. Suddenly the situation got very daunting very quickly, to an extent I still struggle with the transition today.
3) Did you receive any support when you retired?
I didn’t get a great deal of support really. I went to Dubai for a year to try and use my experience and knowledge to help set up coaching systems in UAE rugby. It was a great experience but everything was done off my own back and it became difficult to self-finance after a while.
4) Did you get any career support when you returned from Dubai?
When I came back I teamed up with Athlete Career Transition (ACT) and they were really good. ACT helped me to isolate on my professional attributes and develop them towards a following a specific career path to find a job in Wales. My skill-set was matched with a number of companies and this eventually led me to work with OSTC Foreign Exchange, which offers specialised foreign exchange services.
5) How is your second career going for you?
It’s going really well now, I’m working in such different environments to what I was conditioned to perform in throughout my first career, and this has come off the back of working proactively with ACT. It’s not what I would have pictured myself doing ten years ago, but I’m grateful to have met so many interesting people and to have been given so many new opportunities in business. I’ve got a few other things going too; there’s my fitness consultancy dafydd-james.com and I still do public speaking and punditry, so I’m still very much in touch with the rugby world. I’m also proud to be an ambassador for Tenovus.
6) What would you say has been the toughest aspect of the career transition for you?
Definitely the psychological aspect was the biggest thing to overcome. Going from constant training and physical preparation to a corporate environment was a huge change and not one I was prepared for. Having said that, I’m getting used to it slowly and a lot of doors have opened for me through this fresh direction in life; I’m really appreciative to be where I am today.