Are Education And Cycling Compatible?

Sean Mc kenna and I both have had some pretty similar life experiences, albeit at completely different times in our lives – I studied after my bash at pro cycling and Sean studied before hand.

We spoke recently about the lack of congruency between cycling at a high level and continued education.

Basketball, American football, swimming, GAA, soccer this list is a long one. What do all of these sports have in common? If you excel in any of them, you will probably get a scholarship for third level education before going on to become a professional.

However, this is not the norm for cyclists.  Aspiring cyclists traditionally have to pursue their dream to become a professional at a young age meaning some of them don’t even finish second level education.

During our time in college we regularly asked ourselves why. Every other sports person in the college got access to state of the art facilities and special compensation to fit their competitions around their timetables.

To be fair, there aren’t many cyclists in the college and even less at a level that warranted serious investment like other athletes in the college did. As far as I know there were no cycling national champions or record holders at the time.

However, recently some of the country’s best cyclists have taken to third level education, which is great to see. Hopefully they get the same treatment as the other athletes do because often minority sports go unnoticed.

I went for a scholarship in second year but was shatfed by a host of football players that trained twice a week and drank every other night – fair or not it doesn’t matter – with proper structure you can make a lot happen around a college timetable.

So that’s what we both did.

College has the potential to be the perfect stepping-stone into the professional ranks. Along with teaching athletes life skills such as living away from home, being self-sufficient and learning how to deal with people college also offers state of the art facilities to help athletes progress in their sport.

The added bonus is that they get an education and in this day and age, a degree is almost the minimum level expected for a lot of jobs.

Studying while competing in a sport at which you aspire to become a professional in has huge benefits. It provides a mental break from worrying about your performance and training. In addition, college hours tend to be flexible and allow athletes to train sufficiently.

If an athlete is studying a course in which the syllabus can be applied to their chosen sport, it can have huge benefits. For example, a human nutrition or dietetics course will educate the athlete on their dietary needs and a sports science or exercise management course will educate them on training and how it will affect their body. An educated athlete that understands their body will always have much more potential simply because they understand what is needed to improve.


For most a sports science degree might appear broad and for others a bit pointless but I had a platform to apply what I learned.

The knowledge is important, but its application is key.

Colleges tend to have the most up to date facilities both for athletes and students to learn and practise with before they enter their field of work. Training tools like state of the art gyms, watt bikes and experts in training are all available in most colleges. If these were utilised by student cyclists they would have access to training and testing that would be comparable to a world tour teams facilities.

Thankfully the old school method of being shipped off to main land Europe at young age to become a professional cyclist is a thing of the past.

With facilities such as online courses and even special schools that facilitate athletes with serious potential, aspiring cyclists can still have a life outside of cycling these days. The facilities are available to allow athletes to study while competing. They no longer have to put off their degree until after their sporting careers.

In the professional ranks developments teams such as SEG cycling team encourage their athletes to study while competing. Even at the top tier, BMC rider Manuel Quinziato just completed his Masters degrees in Law. Even at home, there has been an upsurge in student athletes winning races at home. For example, Paidi O’Brien won 3 of the 4 stages in the 2015 Ras Mumhan while studying.

Our own Sean Mc kenna won up on 15 races while in his final year of college, which he also nailed– yet the story of how he managed to do it never made any headlines – instead the young guy that left school for a team in Belgium or France did.

When I was a kid I looked up to people that (no offence to these guys) had taken the all or nothing route – so I believed this was the only way to make it.

Well folks it’s not – an example should be made of Sean’s story so young riders starting out can follow a similar path.

Professional athletes possess some of the most valuable traits to any employer, organisation or the world of entrepreneurship. The problem is they have to start at the bottom rung when they leave the sport and this takes a lot of time.

Most come out of the sport and have no idea what they’re going to do and how to apply some of their most valuable attributes – determination, commitment, patience – in lay mans terms they have proven time and time again to have the ability to see a project all the way to the finish regardless of what mishaps they might face along the way.

Athletes that learn a multitude of skills along with gaining an education have far more opportunities available to them when they decide to finish with their chosen sport.

This means they’re not up all night thinking ‘what the fuck do I do if this all fails’

It also means they can look back on their sporting memories knowing they had the balls to chase a dream and didn’t sacrifice the quality of their life after the sport in the process.

We both turned out ok (arguable) from completely different approaches but I was literally knocked out of the sport and my decision to switch my focus was made for me.


Buggle and Mc kenna combo

About the Author