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Jamal Lewis and Jack Clifford among athletes keeping preoccupied in lockdown with trading course

by Rebecca Myers

More than 300 athletes, including Premier League footballers and rugby players from top clubs such as Saracens and Wasps, are using their free time in lockdown to take an online course in financial trading.

Derivatives trading firm OSTC have offered free places on their financial trading diploma to athletes, to keep them occupied while sport is suspended. OSTC and its education branch ZISHI are working with a number of different clubs to offer the course to players, including Manchester United and West Ham, and with the Professional Cricketers’ Association, while several Saracens players and one Chelsea player are soon due to complete it after around three months’ training. The FA are recommending the course to female players and clubs in the Women’s Super League.

England and Harlequins back-row player Jack Clifford, who is taking the course, said it was an opportunity to fend off the boredom while matches were on hold: “I immediately jumped on it to get myself out of the boredom of training from home and to keep myself going,” the 27-year-old said.

“It’s great to get into a different world outside the rugby bubble. If you don’t, especially in a time like this, you can feel isolated and extremely bored because you’re stuck not being able to do what you love and we can’t see when or where we’re going to be able to play again.”

Jamal Lewis, who plays as a left back for Norwich City, has also started the course in lockdown. “I did want to set a goal for this period of time, approach something I had on my list to do, use it as a period of time to improve,” Lewis, 22, said.

“I’ve always been interested in finance and it was an opportunity that I would probably have taken, even if I wasn’t in quarantine. I’m into property at the moment and I’ve always been interested in day trading and stock markets. I wanted to understand it myself.”

Rob Russell, global head of professional qualifications at ZISHI, who created the programme with his team, said he had designed the course after realising that athletes shared many character traits with financial traders. “Lots of people use the language around behaviours from sport such as resilience, discipline and competitiveness and they are so valued by the employer.

“What we’re saying to the athletes is: if you understand the language and behaviours of a trader, the synergies between those behaviours are almost identical. What they develop within clubs and their professional careers, all we need to do is put in the knowledge and skill-set to support those behaviours.” He added that athletes were “highly coachable” and that it was “an incredible, rich talent pool.”

Clifford said the buzz from trading was similar to the adrenaline rush of playing professional sport: “When I sat down and was trading on a simulated trading platform, not actually using real money, I felt that you get close to that excitement and exhilaration [you get when you play sport].

“Also, having that resilience – if something goes wrong, you miss a trade, you can park that and carry on, do the next job – it’s the same mentality we try to implement [in rugby]: affect what you can and always strive to be better.”

Manchester United have more than 20 current and former players signed up to the course and are also offering courses to their players in entrepreneurship and Spanish. Dr Chris McCready, development player care assistant at the club, said the course helped the players to explore new interests.

“We are aiming to support the players’ mental wellbeing throughout their career by enabling them to invest some energy into something that is a positive distraction from the challenges of elite football… and [it] has become especially relevant in the current circumstances.”

The average Premier League salary is around £3m a year, but players in lower tiers earn significantly less. Football has been reckoning with issues around gambling in recent years, with one study, conducted by the Professional Players Federation (PPF), finding that sportspeople were three times more likely than the general public to be problem gamblers.

Asked whether trading would be a problematic area for footballers in light of this issue, Russell said: “Everything is about planning, preparation, execution, and controlling risk, at all times. There is no sense of gambling within what we do as a company. We’ve got 24-hour risk departments… If anything, we strengthen the understanding of what money really means to an individual.”

For Clifford, the qualification is an important addition to his CV, part of his preparation for life after professional sport. “I finished school at 18 – I had my leavers’ do on the Friday and by Monday I was training with Harlequins. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve tried to do a bit of work experience and dip my toe into different areas to work out what I want to do after rugby.

“I’ve done loads of different stuff – marketing, insurance and ship broking, advertising. I’ve always known that rugby isn’t going to be a career I can retire on, I’m going to have to get a job afterwards.”

Lewis hopes to use the skills he has learnt on the course to try trading himself. “I’ve never done trading before – I’m someone who always wants to acquire knowledge before I do something. Once it’s finished, I would definitely try to get stuck in, see how it goes, maybe seek some guidance so I’m not going in just by myself. If it’s something I enjoy and I’m successful at then it’s definitely an avenue I can use when I’ve retired from football.”