Maria Lamprinidou, a former professional volleyball player who received a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund to study the Online Master’s Degree in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, tells us about her professional and personal journey to start her own business in the sports industry
Her lifelong discipline and ability to adaptat to new environments have shaped her into a professional volleyball player, first, and into a real businesswoman today. With a father who was an officer in the Greek army, Maria Lamprinidou got used to having her bags always at hand and an open mind to changing her environment every two years. She discovered her passion and talent for volleyball in Orestiada, a large city in the northeastern part of Greece, and soon found herself playing for the national youth team. Her progression led her to move to the capital, Athens, to join the senior national team—in which she played for eight years—and to leave her mark on the leagues of Greece, France and Italy.
Maria retired last year when she became pregnant, although she was already looking forward to putting down roots after a few final years of pure vertigo. Her first baby and the studies of the Online Master in Sport Management have devoured her time since, but they have also helped her to build her future, to have an anchor and keep herself very busy. She is still connected to volleyball because her husband is still an active player, but she is proud to have already made the transition from professional sport to the world of business that every sportsperson needs to make when retirement knocks on the door. “I am very happy to be able to run my own business,” says Maria.
In a few months, she will graduate from the master’s program, which she will have completed in two years. During the last four years, she has combined sport at the highest level with her professional career as a marketing specialist, after graduating from the Athens University of Economics and Business. “The Cruyff Athlete Fund is a really important initiative. First of all, because it believes in the skills and potential of athletes, who are very special, and secondly, because aims to give them the opportunity to create value in the world of sport and society. We all know that athletes reach the end of their career at a relatively early age. Making the transition into the business world is very complicated and sometimes emotionally difficult,” acknowledges Maria.
She is one more example that this is possible and her story gives some clues on how to achieve it.
How did your start playing volleyball and become professional?
I started to play volleyball when we moved to Orestiada, due to my father’s work. Orestiada is a city in the north of Greece, very well-known these last few years for its men’s volleyball team and its sport tradition. There, I was so lucky to have two great coaches and a wonderful group of teammates and friends that made me love the sport. As time passed, my passion for the sport grew. Very soon, I was selected for the junior and youth national team of Greece, and then everything just happened naturally. I moved to Athens when I finished high school, in order to join the university and kick off my professional volleyball career.
If you hadn’t become a professional volleyball player, what do you think your life would be like now?
When I finished my degree in marketing at Athens University of Economics and Business, I immediately found a job at an international company. For some years I was combining both careers. During that period, my life was so busy and, as I was promoted to the senior women’s national team, I felt I had to make a choice. I made the decision to quit my job and pursue my volleyball career. So, I could say that if I hadn’t made that choice, I would now be following a corporate career in the private sector.
Is there support for talent development in Greece?
During my early years in volleyball, our national teams as well as our national championships were at their best. In addition, the Greek economy was at a pretty good level. As a result, a lot of money was invested in our sport, which helped a lot of players develop and become successful. Nowadays, our sport is facing an economic recession, which made me realize that, over the past few years, very few investments were made to support young players, academies, sports schools, etc. This is why the good sport level that my country had didn’t last during the economic crisis. I believe that institutions have to invest more to organize the youth sector, so that more talented athletes will be able to come through a well-organized system.
“I believe that institutions have to invest more to organize the youth sector, so that more talented athletes will be able to come through a well-organized system.”
Is it a myth that professional athletes can’t combine sport and studies?
Well, it is not a myth, in some countries it is very difficult to do both. There are countries that have created an environment where young athletes can combine studies with sport, and others, including Greece, where young athletes have to make important decisions from an early age. I always remember myself having to make a choice between sport or studies, volleyball or my job. Lately, online learning has become the absolute trend. Even though it was an initiative for employees to gain knowledge while working, it has also proved to be very helpful for athletes who are planning their professional life after their sports career.
How has your journey been throughout the Master in Sport Management?
I find it really interesting. It fosters the interaction between students from different sports and sport sectors in different countries, and I am sure that I will gain valuable knowledge. This master’s program is eye opening. I can see how real clubs and sports organizations in general are doing business from a different point of view.
“Online learning has proved to be very helpful for athletes who are planning their professional life after their sports career.”
How important is education for athletes during their sports career?
Education for athletes creates the foundation for a future after the end of their sports career. Besides that, in order to be more effective and happier in our lives, we need to have a balance between sport and a normal life. So, a sustainable combination of sport and education helps athletes to expand their thinking and also to do other things, which will help them feel productive.
Do you think it’s possible to combine sport and studies and still perform at a very high level?
I do believe combining the two is feasible. Of course, it is not easy but, following a program and combining short-term with long-term goals, in the end the feeling of achieving both is the best. As I said, education helps athletes to disconnect for a moment from their sport, which can be overwhelming at times, and to see life from a different perspective.
“A sustainable combination of sport and education helps athletes to expand their thinking and also to do other things, which will help them feel productive.”
What is your favorite aspect of sport management and why?
It is hard to choose. Even though I am coming from the marketing sector, which was also my first degree, throughout this master’s degree I found out that strategic management and finance are really appealing to me. I believe that evolution in sport is based on the financially sustainable business models that sport organizations are adapting, and it is really interesting to study them. Creating a model that performs well, regardless of a team’s performance, is something that we need to work on a lot.
How do you think athletes should better prepare for retirement?
In my opinion, during their sports career athletes have to plan their after-sport life, which lasts more. It is definitely not easy, as sport requires devotion and most of our energy and time. The earlier athletes start thinking how to prepare their retirement the better it is. First of all, they need to do in-depth research in order to understand what their aptitudes and preferences are. Athletes dare to do what they most love, so it is super important to continue their life doing something that they love. Then, they need to expand their network by meeting new people with different backgrounds, attend seminars, read books and preferably attend a school or university. These actions will expand their way of thinking and prepare them for their final steps after retirement.
When did you retire and what was your experience like?
I retired last year when I got pregnant with my son. Today, I am so happy to run my own business with a fellow teammate and friend. Both of us stopped volleyball to pursue our after-sport professional future. My friend followed her love for babies and children and I followed a dream to create unique environments for children to practice sport and, most of all, to love sport. We have started a baby swimming center, which is suitable for babies from 3 months and children until 8 years old. My friend is the instructor and I handle the administrative work. I do miss volleyball but, at the same time, I feel so fulfilled.
What are your thoughts on initiatives such as The Cruyff Athlete Fund?
The Cruyff Athlete Fund is a really important initiative, first of all because it believes in athletes’ very special soft skills and potential, and aims to give them the opportunity to create value in the sports world and society. We all know that athletes have to end their career at a relatively young age. As they have to pursue another career after sport, the transition is very tough and sometimes emotionally difficult for athletes. For that reason, initiatives like The Cruyff Athlete Fund are priceless, especially when local governments cannot provide this support.
“The Cruyff Athlete Fund is a really important initiative, first of all because it believes in athletes’ very special soft skills and potential, and aims to give them the opportunity to create value in the sports world and society.”
How do you see yourself in a couple of years or so?
I see myself working hard to expand my new business, and to implement the knowledge that I acquired through this master’s degree combined with the skills I obtained throughout my sports career. Greeks love doing sport and I believe there is still a lot of potential to upgrade the sport experience for everyone—for athletes (both professionals and amateurs), for people just doing it for fun, and for spectators.
Header Image: Simone Spataro