Former Sale Sharks and England rugby international, Steve Hanley knows all about winning teams and optimum performance. He is now helping to empower businesses as a GoVida ambassador to improve the wellness of their teams.
Steve, tell me about yourself
“Having grown up in Cumbria, I started playing rugby very early on and made my debut for England and Sale Sharks when I was only 19. I was living the dream and over my career I played in some fantastic teams with great players and coaching staff. During this time we were Premiership Champions once and won the European Challenge Cup twice.
I retired at 31 having suffered a back injury and moved into the world of business firstly with Sale Sharks in sales and marketing their corporate season tickets and commercial sponsorships. At the moment I am working with Sedulo, a financial services company, and following my passion for wellbeing and helping people perform at their best with GoVida.”
What was it like transitioning from an athlete to the world of business?
“Adjusting from being a professional athlete to moving into the business world was an interesting experience. It was a major lifestyle change. As an athlete, your job is to be physical and mentally ready to perform at your best every match day and the clubs give you all the help you need, from providing the correct nutrition to your strength and conditioning to your psychology. We were looked after by leaders in these fields and my daily routines were mapped out for me.
When my career as a rugby player ended, I soon realised I needed to find a new routine and how physical and mental preparedness are just as necessary in business as they are in sport.”
How did you adapt your routine following your retirement?
“Well, having spent enough of my life in the gym and coming from the Lake District I love the outdoors. So, I look for creative ways to keep myself active. With 3 young kids, I look to take part in their exercise activities where possible and, when time permits, play golf. I am a big golf fan. However, at first, I found it way too easy to slip out of regular activity without having it scheduled for me.
My routine now is very different to my playing days but I track my steps and look to hit 10,000+ each day with regular activity breaks throughout the day. I find exercising before work makes me feel more alert and productive and less tired in the evenings.”
What advice would you give to someone wanting to move to a healthier lifestyle?
“Firstly, find something you enjoy, make it fun and be realistic. Don’t set the bar too high as you won’t sustain it. Then for me it is all about scheduling your exercise and mindfulness practices into your daily routine. I know it is tricky and modern life can be hectic but make your wellbeing a priority.
I would also look at how you relax and unwind. As athletes we viewed our rest time as just as important, if not more important, than our training because that’s when your body would recuperate. I see the same in business where relaxation and quality sleep help combat the stress that work and life throws out.”
How important is movement in supporting mental health?
“Oh, it is vital. The brain is a wonderful thing but like anything needs attention. Movement and exercise are a great way to feel good. The endorphins released give you such a boost and physical movement is a powerful tool for changing your emotional state.
Fuelling your body effectively is also important. Nutrition plays a big part in life as an athlete as it does in business. Without the right fuel and hydration energy levels dip, concentration wanes leading to mistakes, mood swings and fatigue.”
During your playing career how did you handle injuries?
“There’s nothing worse for an athlete than being injured. You go from feeling like a super star, to working by yourself in the gym and unable to play with fans questioning where you are. I found this really difficult. I had 9 months out with a shoulder injury during which I felt very low and isolated. All I wanted to do was be back on the pitch. Thankfully I had a great support network and spun the negative to a positive. I set myself short-term goals with my rehab plus took the opportunity to strengthen and improve other areas and I came back a better player than before”
What other setbacks have you experienced during your rugby career and how did you overcome them?
“During one season we had an injury crisis with 12 first team players out of action. We started to lose every week. Games we would previously have won by over 30 points, we were losing. As a team and club we had built a winning mentality but now we were losing and were on a downward spiral. You learn a lot about yourself in times of adversity and it does test the strength of your team. The losing run lasted around 3 months but we kept working hard, changed our strategy and eventually our resilience shone through.
To change a negative cycle whether it be losing rugby matches or an unhelpful behaviour requires honesty in evaluating what you’re doing. Recognise which habits in life are creating a positive impact and leading to a desired outcome and which ones aren’t helping. Set yourself goals and follow the path to them.”
How important is employee wellbeing for a business?
“Creating an environment and culture where people enjoy their work and can thrive is essential. Business, like sport, is highly competitive and to keep and attract the best talent you need to look after them. Over the last 10 years I have seen businesses take this more and more seriously.”
How do you see GoVida helping businesses build winning teams?
“I got involved with GoVida as I have seen, first hand, how small lifestyle changes can really make a positive impact on mental and physical health. I am a huge believer that when you feel well, happy and confident you perform at your best. The challenge is around how to help people, give them the tools and incentives to create positive habits and that’s where I see GoVida’s role.
To win in sport and business requires a unified team working together and team wellbeing challenges that can be run through the platform are a brilliant way to bond and boost morale.
With the recent pandemic there has never been a more important time to look after ourselves and each other and as businesses look to bounce back the wellbeing of their teams will be crucial.”