Q & A with SPLASH! judge and Olympic diver Leon Taylor

Leon Taylor with his Athens 2004 Olympic silver medal

Leon Taylor with his Athens 2004 Olympic silver medal

Thanks to London 2012 and the recent ITV show SPLASH!, interest in the sport of diving has never been greater!

Judge on SPLASH! and a former diver Leon Taylor has generously given up some time to speak to the Register of Aquatic Professionals (RAPs). Leon’s career in diving spanned 22 years, culminating in his Olympic Silver medal in the 10m synchronised dive, alongside team mate Pete Waterfield in Athens in 2004. These days he is busier than ever; running his own business, speaking at corporate events, and acting as a brand ambassador for several multinational companies. So Leon…

Q: How have the last few years been for you?

A: Exciting! Scary. Busy. It really has been a whirlwind! I’ve been doing all sorts, everything from dangerous sports such as snowboarding (I wasn’t able to do it before retirement due to fear of injury), to public speaking and developing my own business. I’ve really thrown myself into ‘life after sport’ and am enjoying the adventure.

Q: Did the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics live up to your expectations?

A: Definitely, they exceeded them. I was involved as a bid ambassador from the beginning, back when I was still competing, so I really was totally immersed. If I’m honest the feeling was of trepidation as the event drew nearer, were we going to be able to live up to the hype? However, as I sat in the opening ceremony, surrounded by all former medallists, including my hero Daley Thompson, I knew it was going to be amazing. I was extremely busy during the period; commentating for the BBC, acting as a mentor, fulfilling corporate commitments, but the sense of pride was immense. To top it all off the popularity of the Paralympics was infectious, which was great to see!

Q: The question we’re all dying to ask, how did you find being a judge on SPLASH?

A: Well, it really came out of left field actually. I had planned, and booked, a once in a lifetime trip to New Zealand with my girlfriend but we eventually decided to cancel this so that I could be involved in the programme.

It all started when I was approached by the production company planning for SPLASH!. They asked me to do some consultation work brainstorming ideas for the show. Next thing I know I’m I sitting next to Jo Brand! Albeit feeling fairly sick, having suffered a burst appendix after show one, but no one noticed right? The power of makeup and TV!

Q: You retired at the age of 30, did you struggle with the transition to a career outside of elite sport? What advice would you give to up and coming athletes about developing their skills and looking ahead to the future?

A: Be prepared. Sport is finite; you can step off the curb, damage your ankle, and as simple as that it can be over. If you have plans in place for the future then you can action them as and when you need to, this applies to anyone, not just elite athletes.

In 2001 I was forced to undergo reconstructive surgery on my shoulder; this was a wakeup call for me and so when it eventually came to retirement time I was fairly prepared, the transition was difficult but manageable. Before this injury though I had hardly thought about life after sport, things could have been very different.

Q: Did you find the qualifications that you gained at school / during your sporting career and the skills that you developed as an elite athlete came in useful when you left the sport and started your own business?

A: My formal education came to an end after A Levels. I started a degree but unfortunately due to my training schedule and the inflexibility of the University system at the time (this is something that has since been addressed) I was unable to finish it. However, I did complete a certain number of modules which have come in useful. My injury mid career and the character traits that led me to be a top athlete spurred me to go out and gain experience and I was able to shadow several BBC TV presenters. I also attended various training courses in public speaking. During the rehab of my 4th shoulder surgery I completed a HND in Business & Finance which has proved invaluable in relation to the running of my own business and when I’m speaking to a business audience.

Q: Having been a part of the Aquatic industry for many years how do you feel about the launch of RAPs and the regulation of professionals within the industry?

A: I think that it is a fantastic opportunity for the industry and the individuals within it. There is now a structure in place for the Aquatic industry workforce to mark themselves against to ensure that they are in line with the National Occupational Standards. It is great that there is professional development support included as this will help everyone within the industry to ensure that they are continually developing, and that they are always striving to be best they can be at what they do.

Q: You’ve written a book ‘MENTOR – The Most Important Role You Were Never Trained for’. Why do you feel that mentoring is so important in sport and business?

A: Mentoring is a bit of a forgotten art; years ago this was how everyone used to learn. Nowadays the approach is often much more instruction based. Whether you are the mentee or the mentor, learning takes place. Mentoring is about understanding what the mentee is going through and sharing your experience with them in a way that can guide them to new leanings not telling them what to do. One of my roles during London 2012 was as mentor to Sophie Christiansen who went on to win three Paralympic gold medals; it was such a great feeling to see her shine and knowing I had been part of her journey. I didn’t know a lot about Cerebral Palsy or horse riding when we started out but this didn’t matter. It was the skill set that is important, not the context; the same principles apply to the world of business.

Q: What’s next for Leon Taylor? Will you ever retire from involvement in the Aquatic industry and the sport of diving?

A: One of my current challenges (I always like to stay busy!) is triathlons, a lot of hard work, but very rewarding! In terms of work based challenges I will be continuing to grow and develop my business, working alongside great company’s who deliver high performance coaching to businesses. Yoga is also a big thing for me; I studied to become a yoga teacher a few years back and I’m continuing to explore new opportunities within this industry.

From before I can remember I was involved in sport and aquatics so I will never stray too far away, however, I feel that it is important to step back a little from time to time so that I can bring perspective to the situation. In addition, I always make sure I keep my eyes open to new experiences. This is how the chance to be involved in SPLASH! came along in the first place, and unexpectedly it turned out to be a huge hit. As you may have heard, ITV have recently signed off a second season, exciting times!

For further information on Leon and his business or if you would like to buy his book click here 

You can follow Leon on Twitter @LeonTaylorGB

For more information on RAPs, follow this link

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