The lifespan of a professional rugby player is finite. Whether you are hanging up your boots altogether or transitioning to semi-professional, a career post-rugby or to run alongside it, is crucial.

At Community Group, we are experienced in facilitating individuals who are either still playing or recently retired with the opportunity to harness a passion for supporting others in their community and build a career away from the rugby field.

Earlier this year we hired former Exeter Chiefs and Bristol player Junior Fatialofa as our Head of Community at Chinnor RFC Thame. We have invited him to talk about his journey, and how Community Group provided him with the platform to utilise his passion for working in the community and empowering local children.

The Story of Junior Fatialofa

Born in New Zealand, Junior played for Wellington Lions before heading over to England in 2004, signing for Exeter Chiefs – now a powerhouse of the English game, but they were plying their trade in the third division at the time. After four years in Devon, the powerful centre joined Bristol Rugby, playing in their 2008-09 Premiership season.

Junior, who also ran out for Cornish Pirates, hung up his professional boots in 2014, joining Oxfordshire club Chinnor whose First XV were transitioning from amateur to semi-professional at the time. After three seasons at Kingsey Road, he made the decision to retire completely – although he has since played for Chinnor’s vets – and has now been appointed Head of Community at the club by Community Group.

Junior explains his experiences from a young age and his transition into a new career …

“Growing up in New Zealand, I had older family members – brothers and cousins – who played rugby and I would see them playing on TV. They became really successful and I thought that could be a pathway for me. What changed everyone’s mindset was when rugby became professional in 1995 when I was 15 and if you were good enough, you could make a career out of it.

“In all honesty, you never seriously think about life after rugby until you have that last contract and realise you need to put plans in place for the transition. I was lucky that my parents were always pushing me to prepare and that rugby was not going to last. When I was at Exeter they were transitioning from semi-pro to professional and they gave you a window to explore. I did a lot of work with teachers and I was curious what the other side was like – I was proactive in finding out what I would enjoy post-rugby.

“Mentally, I was prepared for life after rugby, but despite that experience at Exeter it took me two-three years to figure out what I was passionate about and it was a filtering process of what works for me and what do I enjoy. That is the hardest thing – finding your passion away from playing rugby. What I did know was I wanted to work with schools, not necessarily rugby, but the mentoring side of things and I was fortunate that I knew a lot of parents and young players at Chinnor who would benefit from that. It was nice to have that network, and clubs like that are so important to players like myself. It is good to connect with people who take a genuine interest in what you would like to do and they were very helpful.”

Learning on the job

Community Group appointed Junior as Chinnor’s Head of Community in February 2022 and he feels it fits the bill perfectly.

“The best thing about working for Community Group is I’m learning new skills every day,” he said. “The role has pieced together what I have been doing over the last five years since I retired. It fitted the job description really well in terms of what I wanted to do – working in the community and empowering local children.

“This job stretches you. Learning on the job is a big thing for me because it is similar to what professional rugby was like and it has been a good transition into this role.

“To be honest, it’s probably the first proper job I have had since retiring. That job makes everything stable in your family life and gives you a bit more security, which is really important.”

Curiosity is key

It is never too early to start thinking about your post-rugby career, and Junior has this message: “Having a dual career is important. Life is not all about rugby and it gives you a good grounding in terms of what you want to do when you finish playing, so I urge players to be curious and ask questions.

“It is important to have a really good balance in what you are trying to do. It is difficult to train and hold down a full-time job, but those skills you learn now will only benefit you when you finish rugby and the transition will be easier as you are used to working a long day.

“A lot of companies are interested in employing people with a background in sports as their skills are transferable. You are used to performing in high pressure situations and it is probably a skill you do not realise you have because you have it in abundance, but it is about transferring it into a different environment.”

Community Group specialise in aiding the enrichment, well-being and health of our communities through wide-ranging and exceptional opportunities. If you would like to know more about Community Group, please click HERE.