The Instagram project tackling a post-playing career
‘If I’m not an Olympic Champion then who am I?’
Korf’s rhetorical question is one about a lack of identity – one of the key obstacles her project reveals that athletes need to overcome in a post-playing career.
It’s an issue Korf identified and prepared against during her career. She medalled at Lithuania’s National Long Jump Championships in various age groups, winning at the Baltic Sea Youth Games and finishing third at the Nationals two years in a row.
Despite this promising start to her career, she is continuing her education alongside training with an eye on the future. Korf has a BA in Journalism at Vilnius University, has taken a short-course in photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism and is completing her Masters in Digital and Interactive Storytelling at the University of Westminster.
“I see a lot of young athletes dropping their studies in order to train full-time. I don’t want to say studies are the key to a successful life but if there is this blind devotion to sports without developing other skills, it creates a very dangerous situation.
“Even if you do succeed as an athlete, there is no such profession as being a former athlete in the sense that your past achievements don’t automatically mean stability for the rest of your life. You’d still have to learn new skills not relevant to competing, such as public speaking, investing, working with clients”
Whilst studying journalism, Korf stopped seeing sport from the ‘perspective of competition and results’. She recognised the issue of retirement from sport as one that left most athletes struggling to ‘identify themselves outside of a sporting context.’
“If there is this blind devotion to sports without
developing other skills, it creates a very dangerous situation.”
It was these issues that inspired the #afterwewin campaign. Eight athletes were interviewed, with five stories selected to form the narrative of the project.
“Some of them went on to work in the sports industry because they wanted to give back but in these professions the quota is limited. Some of the athletes I interviewed had to pick up jobs as a bricklayer or a nanny.
“Initially I wanted to create a web series, but producing one from scratch is a costly exercise. I thought I would create a sample to prove the relevance of the story. I didn’t come up with this idea on my own, I was inspired my tutor Dr. Sandra Gaudenzi.”
After researching where young athletes and sports influencers got their news, Korf found Instagram as the recurring theme. By creating the first stage as a sample, it allowed the interest in #afterwewin to be tested.
“I wanted to build a community interest in the release of the project and also collect personal stories from Instagram users.”
Aside from providing the perfect test platform, Instagram also allowed for high levels of interaction with these athletes.
“I don’t think that the post-sports retirement issue is one that is only relevant for former champions – semi-professionals and athletes who didn’t succeed in achieving major titles face the same issues.
“I thought it would be nice to commend these people on Instagram because of the interactiveness of the platform.”
“Build a bridge between those who have experienced these
issues and those who still have a chance to avoid them.”
“The overall goal of the project is to encourage young athletes to develop a wide range of skills, not only the ones that are relevant in the sporting world. I wanted to build a bridge on my Instagram platform between those who have experienced these issues and those who still have a chance to avoid them, like younger athletes.”
Deciding to interview and study the athletes in depth, Korf would spend up to a two weeks with an athlete to get their story. She took a documentary-style approach to the project.
What was the main thing these athletes battled with once walking away from sport? A lack of identity.
“If I had to choose one particular struggle, it would be their difficulties to find a new narrative for themselves.”
“When asked about their best memories, some of them recall their sporting achievements and still dream of competing. It’s like former soldiers. If you’ve had a very colourful past, it’s very difficult to find an attractive goal in the present.”
Korf admits that the only selection criteria for #afterwewin was an interesting story. The project was purely about real, open and honest accounts of the issues athletes face when leaving the sporting arena and “not about self-promotion.”
“Most of the athletes participating in this project are Olympic or World medallists. This helps give credibility to the project but I didn’t look for the title or names because, for me, the story was the most important criteria.”
While some athletes were dubious about being interviewed on their post-sporting life, they soon realised they could help the next generation of athletes.
“One athlete told me ‘I’m not the rabbit for your experiment’ and I thought ‘No! This is not what this project is about!’
“But when you explain why it is needed and how it can help the younger generation, all of the athletes agreed to take part.”
The project is ongoing, with Korf trying to find the sponsorship and backing to turn #afterwewin into a web series. What started off as a test to gauge the interest behind an issue soon evolved into a multi-faceted narrative that explored a problem many athletes face.
“If I had to choose one particular struggle, it would be
their difficulties to find a new narrative for themselves.”
Korf explains that she didn’t just do the project on a whim. She wanted to address a serious problem in sport. She succeeded, not only engaging the audience with videos, photos and text, but putting the athletes’ stories across with humility and honesty.
Sofija’s top tips for Instagram
Her experience with Instagram has led her to suggest these top tips when creating your online platform:
Be clear about the goal of your page
Do you want to attract potential partners or share the content with your friends? Because the goal of the page simply determines everything else, from tone to the content of your posts.
Write a Bio for your Instagram page
Write a comprehensive bio in the profile section so everyone visiting your page can form an impression without scrolling for ages!
Research your audience
It’s a good idea to start researching your audience because, with Instagram, it is extremely easy to monitor information. For instance, if you are interested in targeting brands, don’t just visit their profile but check who they choose to be their ambassadors, who they follow and then analyse this information.
Engage with the community sharing the same interests as you. It is not only a way to get noticed but also a good source of inspiration.
Research the hashtags to use, they’re really important. They are the signposts to address your content to the right audience, and write them down somewhere so you don’t have to type them out every time!
Don’t try to be perfect
Honesty and showing your personality is very important. Polished Instagram pages often lack charisma and, consequently, engagement. What is more inspirational is seeing imperfect people doing something great. Engagement is valued more than size of following because following represents only a number. Engagement shows the relevance of the account.
If you’re interested in sponsoring or collaborating with Sofija’s #afterwewin project, contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re an athlete interested in how caytoo can help you better connect with brands, register here.