Amber’s ambitions for athlete representative role

Swimmer Amber Keegan is a former TASS athlete

Amber Keegan is the newly appointed, all-action chair of the TASS Athletes’ Advisory Group (TAAG). In a revealing interview she talks dual careers, decisive action and uncompromising determination.

When TASS sought a compelling voice to represent its growing community of student athletes one shouted louder than most. When it comes to juggling academic commitments with an elite sporting career, Amber Keegan has been there, done that and worn the t-shirt. In fact she’s probably worn out the t-shirt.

It would appear the Chemical Engineering with Energy undergraduate is already an expert on the latter. When it comes to energy, Keegan boasts boundless amounts – the decision to apply for the chair’s position on the TASS Athletes’ Advisory Group (TAAG) proving the point as a fourth-year student with aspirations to swim at the highest level opted to stretch her already hectic schedule ever further.

“For me it’s about not compromising,” explained the newly appointed TAAG chair. “I want to do the best that I can in the degree and sport that I love. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between them! I’m mindful that sporting careers don’t last your entire life. Because of this, I make the most of every opportunity to train and race and travel. But I’m also conscious that I need to prepare for my career after swimming too!”

Wise words from an old head on young (and rather powerful) shoulders. Keegan is adamant she can spark progress at the head of TAAG – a body established to provide TASS athletes with a means of expressing their views on the direction of dual career support and initiating positive change. And she can’t wait to get started.

“I’m super excited,” she added. “It’s an honour! I’m really looking forward to getting together with the TAAG members and helping to give back to and improve on the scheme for current and future athletes.

“I think, as a former TASS athlete, I’m in a good position to see the positive changes that TASS has already made and, with the help of the TAAG, to improve it further.

“As a current athlete and student I am an excellent voice because I am still experiencing the unique demands of the dual career approach at first hand.

“I know how much of a positive difference support has had – whether that support has come from friends and family, the University of Sheffield or TASS. TASS is a great support scheme and TAAG is a place where I can help make positive differences to the sporting and academic careers of others.”

Amber Keegan in action at the 2016 British Swimming Championships (Credit: DE Photos)

For Keegan, the next academic year demands a keen focus. Graduating from university and securing a medal at the World University Games are obvious priorities and achieving those dual goals demands careful time management and ongoing support.

“It’s just about being organised,” added Keegan. “I’ve got years of experience when it comes to balancing my sport and my studies! Planning in advance helps to make sure I avoid competition and university clashes where I can. I also plan on using the support networks available to me, from coaching and university staff to my friends and family.

“I want to bring that experience to TAAG. Time management is a big challenge, both with weekly schedules and forward planning around key events or competitions. And staying healthy and injury free is super important for both careers.

“For me, the biggest challenge is that balancing these things often means left less time than I’d like for friends and family. It can be tricky but it also really makes you really appreciate the time you do get.

“The challenging elements of being a dual career athlete are what make it so special and rewarding.”

As a former TASS athlete, Keegan was intrigued by the opportunity to work from within the organisation to improve the prospects and performance of future international stars. Opting to apply for the TAAG chair’s position was an easy decision.

“As a TASS alumna, I was contacted about the role and was immediately keen to apply,” she explained. “I’ve always enjoyed using my experiences to help others and I worked as a teaching intern last summer.

“I led lunchtime sessions helping talented students learn to balance their sport and study, which was really rewarding. Their ambition to reach their sporting and academic goals simultaneously inspired me to want to help more people like them achieve their dreams.”

Keegan is unashamedly positive in her appraisal of TASS but sees TAAG as an opportunity to build an even brighter future for a new generation of elite English athletes. Creating a clear channel of communication to effect swift change is at the heart of a manifesto founded on positive personal experience.

“TASS is a fantastic scheme and an athlete voice is a way to make it even better,” she added. “Communicating with athletes is a really important way to understand what is already working well and what could be improved on. Having TAAG hopefully means these recommendations can be made in real time.

“I think TASS’s strengths lie in the breadth of athletes it reaches both through the range of sports it supports and the locations of its sites. One area where there can be improvement is in terms of receiving and using athlete feedback to tailor services better – where appropriate. That’s something I hope to be a part of!”

Keegan feels she is on the cusp of a bold new era for dual career athletes – a time when playing performance sport at the same time as engaging in full-time education will become the norm.

“In my experience, more young students are definitely considering trying to seize sporting and learning opportunities together, rather than feeling pressured to focus on one,” she added.

“I think that athletes are more aware of the opportunities available, helped by the growing online presence of academic institutions. However, sometimes I think so much information can be overwhelming. TASS can help athletes simplify what can feel like a complicated dual career pathway.”

Applications for new TAAG members are now open. Current TASS athletes are invited to apply to join the group by completing the online application form by Monday 29th October 2018.