Ben Robbins & Self-Expression: Life Lessons Learned on the Wing

Fri 3rd Feb 2023

During his stellar international career, Ben Robbins represented Scotland at the Junior Six Nations & World Cup, as well as across the World Rugby Sevens circuit. While playing top-flight rugby, Ben was able to travel the world making amazing memories and meeting some of his closest friends along the way, and has now settled down to life after sport.

We met with him to discuss the defining decisions in his journey and how the skills he gained now serve him in Finance.

The Second-Option Mindset – The Foundation Behind an Upward Trajectory

Ben Robbins has no shame in admitting that football was his favourite game as a child. ‘It was peer-pressure more than anything else’ that first introduced to rugby, and by aged 13 it was all he wanted to do. His PE teacher Ally Donaldson first noticed his talent, and Ben improved rapidly at school. Even today, he remembers his school’s victory at the Scottish Schools Cup Final as the favourite moment of his rugby career. Leaving Murrayfield with the trophy on his shoulders and a shot at a professional contract, this was an incredibly promising moment.

Looking back today on a  successful transition out of rugby, Ben is thankful that he always maintained his life outside of sport and recognises the importance of his upbringing in helping him to achieve this:

‘I’ve probably got my parents to thank for that - they always made sure that I’d done all my homework first. And when I signed my rugby contract after school, they weren’t pushy about it, they said I could do it, but they were keen for me to do university as well.’

He carried this mindset with him beyond school, completing his Undergraduate Degree in Business Management and taking a Graduate Diploma in economics from Nottingham University, alongside playing rugby at an elite level. Meticulous preparation and long-term planning are imperative to the lifestyle of a student-athlete and reflecting on where he is now, Ben truly recognises its value:

‘Obviously it was a hard decision to make, not to turn my back on rugby, but to definitely decide it wasn’t the main focus anymore. Obviously, it’s so difficult when you’ve put so much time and effort into it. But I’m glad I always kept something else in the background, it meant I wasn’t starting from the beginning. I didn’t have much experience, but I always knew where I saw myself going.’

Ben Robbins | Photo by Paul Downs
Photo by Paul Downs

From Rugby to Finance – Skills Gained & Lessons Learned

Personability, Diversity & Cooperation

It is well accepted that no single member– be that a player, a coach, or physiotherapist – can make up a winning team. Ben takes this one step further, and has come to recognise that the best teams are those that work together as one, but are made up of unique and varied individuals:

‘There are so many different personalities, different characters, different people you need to make a successful team. You learn to fit in with everyone, how to relate to everyone.’

The ability to remain personable and relatable, not because it is the polite thing to do but because it actually improves results and productivity, is something that Ben learned through rugby and he strives to bring into his workplace today. A team mentality is empowering for additional reasons, as Ben tells us that people respect athletes for their ‘willingness to go the extra mile and do what it takes for a team’, whether that’s working overtime to help your teammates in defence or staying around for an extra hour after the working day ends.

Leadership & Adaptability 

Throughout his sporting career, Ben has played for a variety of different clubs, which has meant assuming varying positions of responsibility pertaining to each team environment. At each club, Ben experienced Leadership. Whether this meant he witnessed it (as a junior member of a squad) or stepped up to command it (as a senior member), he was immersed.

Similarly, Ben has learned how to navigate the dynamics of a group, and work through different roles. He singles out one lesson in particular:

‘With Scotland U20s, a lot of what we did was player and self-led, looking through analysis and presenting ideas to other players in meetings. So I think there’s leadership but also the ability to listen, to be whatever role you need to be in the team at that time.’

Work Ethic

Ben has an interesting outlook on what it is to perform:

‘When you go out to play a match, that should just be you expressing yourself. All the work has been done in the weeks and months of training, so it’s an opportunity to go out and enjoy it.’

He has applied this mentality to other areas of his life, such as exams, presentations and important meetings. Ben’s outlook shields him from complications like performance anxiety, and empowers him with an intuitive and spontaneous performance style. The crucial point is that this depends entirely on working hard and performing in a certain way to a certain level over a prolonged period of time. Only those with real discipline and real work ethic can put themselves in a position to perform expressively. Ben speaks of his own ‘internal pressure’ that keeps him maintaining high standards.


Proactivity & Flexibility – Advice for Any Athlete Looking to Transition

It was only when Ben actually entered the workplace to begin his first role that he fully appreciated the abilities he had gained from rugby. To best recognise how well sporting excellence can translate into the corporate world, there is no better means than getting out there and trying it for yourself.

To achieve this, Ben emphasises that most people playing sport would be surprised about how many contacts and resources they have at their disposal; from family & friends, to older teammates who have already transitioned, university careers service, and such.

‘They allow you to get a taste of what different areas might look like, and once you’ve got a better understanding given your background and education – whether that’s three degrees or none – there are always options available. Get out there and speak to people as much as possible or even better, ask to go in for a day or maybe even an hour.’

Maintaining a forward-thinking mindset whilst being an elite athlete can make the difference between a smooth transition and the alternative - ‘diving into something you don’t actually like’. Being proactive goes hand-in-hand with curiosity and the willingness to be open to new possibilities. With all the resources at your disposal, ‘You have to be flexible and let the opportunities come to you. You have to be ready for them and do the best that you can do when you get the chance.’


Organisation & Mindfulness – Advice for Student-athletes

‘Organisation is the biggest one. It’s boring and not what other people at university are doing but since you have such a busy schedule with studying and training, preparation is the best way to navigate that’.

On top of Organisation, Ben stressed the importance of Balance:

'Make sure you schedule in time to enjoy yourself, nobody’s a robot, ultimately you do sport to enjoy it and no-one’s going to enjoy it if you don’t celebrate. Once you’ve got that time-management, you can bang on about it to employers for as long as you like’, he smiles.

With this final piece of advice, Ben married his two principal reflections on the sport-life balance: enjoy and live in the moment, but always plan for the future.

Eddie Laurence

Photo Credit:
Header Image - photo owned by Ben Robbins