It’s a common dilemma for talented young people: should they pursue their own personal dream whether that be in sport, the arts or another calling, or play it safe and focus on a ‘normal’ career?
There again, a term that one often comes across is work-life balance – so, in fact, could it be possible to do both?
Step forward Eboni Beckford-Chambers, who certainly seems to have managed the trick. At the age of 29, she has already notched up 80 caps for the England netball team and won a host of medals at World Championships and Commonwealth Games; plays for Team Bath as her club side; and had a spell for good measure playing in the Australian netball league.
At the same time, she also has a law degree and is now a trainee solicitor in the Dispute Resolution team at leading South West law firm, Mogers Drewett.
So, how has Eboni managed this and how does she find the challenge of playing netball at the top level whilst also pursuing her legal career?
“I started playing netball at secondary school and always loved it,” Eboni says. “But at the same time, I was always conscious that I would need a career, as were my parents. My father is an immigration lawyer, so I think I picked up an interest in the law from him. I also enjoyed debating at school and I remember my mother saying that I probably had a good skillset for a legal career.”
Juggling sport and career
So it was that, whilst developing her netball by playing at county level from around 15 years old and then being scouted to start playing for Junior England, Eboni went to Bristol University where she did a law degree. Whilst there, she also played for the Team Bath netball in the super league – and helped them gain four league titles in a five year spell. She won her first senior England cap in 2008.
Following her degree, Eboni obtained a masters in commercial law and then did her Legal Practice Course (LPC) qualification at the University of the West of England.
It was at this point that Eboni decided to really broaden her horizons – and moved to Australia to play in the netball league there, with spells at top teams in Perth and Adelaide.
“My time in Australia was certainly an adventure,” Eboni recalls. “But I also made sure that I kept my hand in the legal sphere and worked part-time at a number of law firms while I was out there.”
Returning to the UK in 2015 (after winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in August), Eboni moved to Bath where she rejoined the Team Bath netball – and began working at Mogers Drewett as a trainee solicitor.
Two years in to this arrangement, how are things going?
“It’s been great so far,” Eboni says. “I applied to Mogers Drewett because it has a rich heritage within the local community, many of the lawyers are featured as experts in the Legal 500 and the firm has a well-regarded reputation within the South West. When I returned to the UK, I wanted to complete a training contract whilst continuing my career in netball. I had been informed that Mogers Drewett was a law firm perceived to be open minded and forward thinking, and I thought that it would be a great fit considering my unusual background.
“When I applied to Mogers Drewett, alongside detailing my academic background and work experiences, I was very open about my netball aspirations and they really embraced it. The firm is very supportive of me and colleagues often come to watch me play which I really appreciate! The firm is very flexible – much more than I ever thought a law firm would be. I map out in advance my upcoming netball commitments, such as an international tournament, so the firm can business plan and work out resourcing requirements for client work, which is always the priority. Sometimes, I’ll use some of my annual leave to play in a tournament or it might be a case of taking unpaid leave. There’s a bit of give and take on both sides, as you’d expect.”
A demanding schedule
Being both an elite level athlete and a professional solicitor certainly means that stamina and commitment is required, as becomes apparent when looking at Eboni’s daily schedule:
“Every morning, I have netball training from 6.30-8am. Then it’s off to work to do a full day at the office. My day at the law firm is very varied. In my role I assist with legal research and drafting of legal forms and documents, as well as liaising with the Court, counsel and clients. I have attended and observed without prejudice meetings, court hearings and mediations. I regularly conduct initial client meetings and present to my team on current affairs topics relevant to our sector.
“I also actively get involved with firm based activities. I have represented Mogers Drewett at the corporate softball and touch rugby tournaments. I also like to get involved with the charity fundraising initiatives and have also been heavily involved in organising the firm’s Christmas party.
“Then in the evening, it’s more training usually from 6.30-10pm! Training is a mixture of on-court playing, weights sessions, and fitness work on the track. So it’s quite a full-on schedule but I do really love it!”
On top of that, there are also trips to the England training centre in Loughborough for fitness tests and trials for selection to play for the ‘Roses’ in international fixtures. A trial is coming up in December for example for selection for a test series against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the January. The Commonwealth Games in Australia is also on the horizon, running from late March to mid-April next year.
There’s plenty to look forward to then, as well as continuing with her professional career.
Planning for the longer-term
“I feel very lucky,” Eboni reflects. “Netball is a huge part of my life and has given me lots of incredible experiences through travel abroad, the sheer excitement and satisfaction of playing for club and country, and lots of friendships too. I was awarded a vice chancellor scholarship at Bristol University, having been a member of their High Performance Programme, where all of my tuition fees were paid. So netball has opened up lots of doors and brought many opportunities my way.”
However, Eboni is also very aware that an athlete’s career at the top level has a limited shelf life – meaning that it’s essential to have something else, such as her legal career, to turn to for the longer-term.
“Sports careers only last a limited amount of time,” she says. “What’s more, in sports like netball the levels of remuneration and sponsorship are nothing like what they are in some other sports. So you really have to have a transition plan for life afterwards. A career ending injury could come at any time or your career will just naturally come to end – and if you’re not careful you could have nothing else to support you. I’m so pleased that I’ve got my legal career and that Mogers Drewett are such supportive employers. It’s something that more sports people need to think about very carefully. There probably needs to be more support and education for athletes around this.
“Follow your dream and give it all you’ve got. But don’t neglect the future either – look for ways that mean you can do what you love but develop a satisfying work career too.”