Ivey racing post-Olympics athletes into employment

Special to Western News

Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Executive Director of Ivey’s Career Management and Corporate Recruiting, has led the Ivey Business School in getting athletes from the podium to the business world by partnering with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) in delivering the Game Plan initiative.

While Olympic athletes dedicate their lives to their sport, embodying commitment, determination and professionalism, there comes a time when it all must end. Now, Ivey Business School is playing a role in getting these athletes from the podium to the business world by partnering with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) in delivering the Game Plan initiative for Canadian Olympians.

Game Plan is designed to provide athletes with the tools and skills needed to transition into formal employment. Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Executive Director of Ivey’s Career Management and Corporate Recruiting, said the business school jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

“It was an alumnus with whom I had worked with as a student,” Irwin-Foulon said of the call she received from Blaine Woodcock, MBA ’07, a Senior Manager at Monitor Deloitte and presenting partner of the initiative. “He called me because of the connection between talent and the way Ivey manages everything from market preparation to alumni engagement. He called to get a little perspective at the conceptual stage of the program. At one point I said, ‘If you’re going to get into the education thing I’d love to help out’ – it it kept going from there.”

The Game Plan initiative includes five key elements: career management, networking, education, skill development and mental/physical health. It will be delivered across Canada by the Canadian Sports Institutes, supported by the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada and the COC.

Game Plan was founded in response to the needs identified by athletes, coaches and sport system stakeholders in two key publications. The 2010 Olympic Games Debrief Report addressed the role of life-sport balance and post-sport career planning to optimize sport performance. The 2011 Business Report examined the status of athlete career transition support in Canada relative to other world-leading programs.

Irwin-Foulon worked jointly with Jerimiah Brown, a former Olympian and Athlete Wellness Manager at COC, to organize Game Plan’s inaugural summit last weekend in Vancouver.

The two-day summit was held in streams, where athletes participated in a career management, brand management or financial management. Brenda Pearson, Associate Director of Ivey’s MBA Career Management, led two sessions on building personal narratives and interviewing. More than 100 athletes attended.

Irwin-Foulon said the plan is to deliver Game Plan in seven partner universities across Canada with leading Olympic and Paralympic training environments to elite athletes and coaches. She is anticipating Western to be one, with its elite training centres for track and rowing.

“The Ivey piece comes in with classroom delivery, which is what we’re doing for the pilot in B.C. right now, one of the seven training centres,” she said. “It’s also training their trainers. They have career advisors who understand transition for athletes, but they don’t understand the tactics we understand. We know the market needs and wants. So, it’s a nice partnership because they know the athletes better than we ever could, kind of their angst and anxiety, but we know what the market presentation look like.”

Irwin-Foulon and Pearson will be focusing on career management and networking around developing market readiness, while Marc Vandenbosch, Associate Dean of Programs at Ivey, will work with the COC and Deloitte to navigate the university system and form partnerships.

“One of the dimensions (of Game Plan) is health – both mental health and physical health,” Irwin Foulon said. “Athletic performance decreases as they get closer to the end, and a component of that is the worry. What do I do know? What’s my identity now? That can create anxiety and depression. By virtue of having a game plan, we’re helping athletes get into place to be confident that there is something at the end of being an athlete.”