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Opinion: The Life of an Athlete – Why Off-Field is as Important as On

Forwardzone CEO Ashley Kotzin believes athletes need to take a long-term view and not just focus on the here and now.

The business of sport is fascinating.

It is a passionate production of challenges, flaws and tremendous potential. This juggernaut industry continues to show annual growth, innovation and diversification, and we see now, more than ever before, the need for specialised management agencies to not only navigate the choppy waters of late, but be the difference in sport by connecting athletes, fans and brands.

It’s energy, enthusiasm and diligence that will ‘grow the game’. When it comes to the business of sport, it’s about knowing what your client needs, the audiences they want to connect with, and having the ability to tailor road maps for their individual success. Focus is key.

My passion lies in the holistic development of both current players and players post-professional play. Typically, athletes do not really think about, or plan for, life after playing and it is the key reason why we see many South African talents drop off the radar. Knowledge is a commodity, and as an athlete’s career can change in an instant, growing one’s skills and education whilst playing should be a non-negotiable.

Three Phases

There are three broad phases in an athlete’s career:

  • the early start-up phase – where their talent is unearthed, nurtured and shaped for their playing career
  • the performance phase – where they are playing and excelling, enjoying the fame and fruits of their labour
  • the non-player phase – when they hang up their playing shoes and are no longer driving their income through their on-field performances

Phase three is where education, network and skill are critical components for continued success. Equipped with these, we do see many athletes successfully transitioning into this third phase, but our commitment to seeing this increase is steadfast. Guiding athletes through their entire careers allows a talent manager and company to not only manage their present, but plan and prepare for their futures.

It’s not fair to expect athletes to manage all of these components alone. After all, their focus needs to be on their on-field performances. For a talent manager, the differentiator is in being invested in the athlete on and off the field, during and beyond the game.


Sports and entertainment companies need to be heavily invested in the ongoing education and development of each person on their books – whether that’s administrators, coaches, players or other – because a key part of ensuring continued success throughout one’s career is understanding and developing one’s brand as a commercial brand.

Being able to give expression to their personality, passion and potential – both on and off of the playing field – helps us to develop these talents in a holistic way and gives us a launchpad for collaboration and partnership with fellow brands and organizations, which in turn tie into their values, speak to their audience, and grow their mutual interests.


Athletes who want to enter into business need to be open minded and learn how to learn again.

A full-time playing career is incredibly hands-on, resulting in some athletes pausing personal development and closing themselves off to life’s learnings, opportunities and growth.

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Over and above this, I would encourage athletes to find mentors to aid their continued growth and development. Guidance from successful and well-experienced professionals can fast-track learning and help athletes gain insight into industries, structures and systems they may not ordinarily be exposed to.

Thirdly, keep your finger on the pulse of your industry, because sport and entertainment is a powerful and ever-changing force, requiring a specific knowledge base and skill set to navigate successfully. Stay in touch with the latest trends and behaviours.

Fourthly, find a team to tackle the journey with you. Sporting properties have evolved into massive marketing machines, and as a result, the effective management and running of these require very specialized, skilled people in the business of sport. I would encourage athletes to find these partnerships.


Many athletes are missing the connection between their work on the field and their work on their brand.

We have seen the industry evolve to craft new experiences and channels for generating engagement through digital platforms. This has emphasized the crucial importance of a well-developed digital footprint for athletes and sporting organizations. These media channels are tools to pull the audience into the experiences that they cannot (yet) physically attend, keeping them engaged with the talents and teams they love. This is a trend we are driving with our own clients, ensuring they continue to connect with their audiences and leverage value for their partners.

Further, these channels provide a unique platform for athletes to share and promote causes close to their heart. The nature of social media allows athletes to shape and influence culture by way of these increasingly powerful mediums used to drive advocacy behind their messages.

South Africa boasts some of the most talented and decorated athletes on the planet. Among these, there are good examples of athletes who are matching these on-field performances with their interests away from the game – managing and amplifying their brands, connecting with their fans, and driving value for their commercial partners. However, there is still a great deal to be done in this space.

Such brand building requires value-driven strategies with clear targets, roadmaps and goals, executed with precision across an array of platforms and touchpoints. When these all come together, it allows athletes to truly connect, inspire and influence the audiences they engage with.

Sport Industry Group
Sport Industry Group

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