National Career Week: Paul Burnett highlights benefits of dual-career for young athletes

National Career Week: Paul Burnett highlights benefits of dual-career for young athletes

While he was busy rising through the ranks of Australian beach volleyball, all the way to be nominated to represent Australia at the next Commonwealth Games, 24-year-old Paul Burnett was also able to successfully cultivate his second passion: health care. 

Burnett is a qualified dentist, and one of many Australian top athletes who balance an alternative career with chasing their sporting ambitions.

When he moved from West Australia to Adelaide to pursue his volleyball dream, Burnett also enrolled at Adelaide University to study dentistry.

“That was five years of full-time study whilst balancing it with volleyball,” Burnett said. “It was pretty challenging, but I made it out to the other side and now I am pretty happy to be able to follow two passions at the same time.”

Training and competing at the highest level of the sport requires dedication and commitment, often leaving limited time for other activities. For dual-career athletes, time management and flawless organisation are definitely key to success, Burnett said.

“Having a good support system around you helps as well,” he added. “Both my coaches, on the volleyball side of things, as well as my connections at university have helped in any way they could.”

Burnett took up the challenge of studying and competing at the same time because preparing for an alternative career outside of sport had always been a big priority.

Well aware that “volleyball players can’t be jumping around forever” and not seeing himself in a coaching position after retirement, Burnett followed his passion for health care to build himself a future off the sand.

“With being an athlete, there is sort of a timeline on it,” Burnett said. “I was really sure that I wanted to have something else after volleyball, and maybe something to pursue during my athletic career as well. That’s why I decided to study and pursue my interest in health care with dentistry,” he said.

The beach volleyball international season is already in full swing and Paul Burnett is on his way to compete at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Kusadasi, Turkey, where he will continue to develop his partnership with 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Chris McHugh ahead of the the FIVB World Championships and the Birmingham 2022 Games, held between July and August.

But for extended periods of time between 2020 and 2021, international travel was not an option and beach volleyball competition was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnett said that during that time, having a second career helped him keep himself motivated, as well as having positive impacts on his mental health. 

“At some point it became hard on the volleyball side of things as you didn’t really see what you were training for, with no competition to aim for,” he explained. “Having something else to put my energy into was quite refreshing. It posed a different challenge that I could attack past, while the volleyball was on hold.”

To celebrate this year’s National Career Week (16-22 May), the annual event promoted by the Career Industry Council of Australia to support career development, many organisations including the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) are offering athletes like Burnett resources, webinars and workshops to help shine a light on career opportunities and support networks available for high-performance athletes.

Based on his experience, the Pro Tour athlete joined in encouraging young athleetes to consider their options and pursue a dual career where possible, highlighting how the benefits of having an alternative interest outside of sport would also be beneficial to their athletic career.

“If you’re completely, 100% focused on volleyball all day, every day, you might just burn out and get sick of it,” Burnett warned. “I always advise people to have another passion or another interest on the side, and I think it has great benefits.

“Both can work in conjunction. It’s not always easy, but I think it’s definitely worth it,” he said. 

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