From Team GB athlete to entrepreneur

Angela Wilson
2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials - Day 4
The lessons of sport can be good practice for the world of business (Source: Getty)

The world of international sport is all-consuming, so much so that when the end of a career looms or injury forces early retirement, many find it difficult to adjust to the sport equivalent of “civvy street”.

Yet it does not have to be that way.

I had been an international swimmer from the age of 11. I competed in the Commonwealth Games and qualified for both the Olympics and European Championships. Yet fate stepped in, and at the age of 19 glandular fever forced me to give up the thing I loved.

Out of the locker room, into the classroom

It felt as if my world had come to an end and it would have been easy to slip into a life of despondency and depression. But as I reflected on the ending of my fledgling career, I realised that a lot of the lessons and training techniques swimming had taught me could serve me well in other areas of my life.

The first obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that I am autistic and have ADHD. Therefore I had to find a way of channeling the excessive energy and difficulty of focusing to positive effect. That inspired me to move into teaching and start my own business as a swim instructor.

I started teaching young children to swim using the techniques I had honed through the training I myself had undertaken throughout my career. My belief was that the determination and focus that it took to become a competent swimmer was good practice for the world of business.

Time to franchise

I found that adults were coming to me for lessons too, and almost without noticing I had a successful business. The trouble was that the demand on my time was outstripping the amount I could commit to.

So what to do? I looked at various options to successfully grow the business without losing the model, and was encouraged to explore the world of franchising. I was given the necessary help and support by my bank manager as he saw how successful the business was becoming.

Thus Angela’s Swim School was born. In just three years it has grown to 18 franchises, and turnover has doubled in the last two years. Each week, we now teach over three thousand people of all ages to swim, from Essex through Kent to Surrey and Hampshire.

We have plans to expand the business outside of its current South East base into the Midlands and beyond. Exhibiting at the recent British Franchise Exhibition is helping to achieve that aim.

Lessons from the world of competitive sport

Among the lessons the business world can learn from the world of sport is a cliche, but nonetheless true: never give up.

An athlete knows all too well what it is like to lose more than win. How to keep coming back from this and trying again takes strength of character and an act of discipline over the mind and emotions.

Getting told you won’t succeed is something you hear both in the sporting world and in business. Being able to block out the negative comments and continue with your vision is essential. Underpinning that is the need to remain focused. It is easy in the modern world to get distracted from prime objectives. To achieve success in any career, you have to set objectives and remained determined.

Make someone else’s idea a personal success

All of these elements are relevant to the franchise world. As a franchisee, you are taking on someone else’s idea, yet need to make it a personal success. That takes focus, self motivation, and determination. We look for these characteristics in appointing our franchisees because if they are successful, so are we.

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