When an athlete’s career ends, there are many opportunities to try and remain involved with their particular sport. However, sometimes when their career can end prematurely due to injury, it can leave them wondering what to do next. After Katie Shanahan retired from the England Women’s Hockey team aged 21, she decided to get involved with her university’s student media. Since then she has gone onto work for Chelsea FC, Sky Sports News, BBC London and now is about to start a new job with BBC Sport in Manchester. I spoke to her about playing hockey for England, the BBC Kick-Off Sports Reporter Scheme and the recent Hockey World Cup.
Katie’s love of sport started at a young age. Having been introduced to hockey when her and a friend signed up to their local club, it quickly became something she was very passionate about, going on to represent England at multiple age levels. “It completely took over my life and I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I made loads of friends along the way, I was training 25 hours a week and traveling the world with England Hockey, which was just amazing! Sport has been a massive part of my life; my family are big football and rugby fans. I’d always be in the back garden playing cricket with my brother, and when there was any opportunity to play sport at school or university, I tried to do it.” With hockey being a big focus at both schools she went to and Loughborough university where she later studied, it seemed only right that she continued to play the sport. At one point, she was playing for up to five teams per week, including her local teams, county, regional and national. She also told me about the incredible experience she gained when she was on hockey scholarship at UNC in North Carolina. Followed by playing for the Rockingham Redbacks in Western Australia, where she found a way to travel the world, playing the sport she loved.
After stepping down from the England team at 21, she decided to look for extra-curricular activities to do outside her geography degree. Soon enough, she came across the Loughborough media team. “I kept seeing all these cameras and university press at different events and wondered what it was. I got talking to people there about it and began to get really involved,” Katie explained. It was through this that her first role working on the other side of sport came, when someone from Chelsea FC’s TV channel gave a talk to a group of the students. “He came in and did an alumni session where he told us about the industry. I got chatting to a lady there and she gave me some good advice. In the final year of my degree, they were looking for someone as a Junior Production Co-ordinator. I went for the interview and ended up getting it! It just shows all those little chats can help lead to a job.”
After working with Chelsea TV for over a year, Katie began working with a company called Input Media. Although she enjoyed her time there covering some of the biggest sporting events in world, such as the Women’s FIFA World Cup and Rugby World Cup, she decided she wanted to be a sports journalist. “I realised I’d rather be in the heart of the action. I found I had a real hunger for finding stories. So, I went back to university and studied at St Mary’s in Twickenham where I did a part-time Masters,” she explained. By studying part-time, this allowed Shanahan to continue to work in the industry with her having a role at Radio Jackie as a newsreader and sports reporter, as well as freelancing at Chelsea TV and other outlets. However, moving from being a player on the pitch to a journalist on the side-lines, was quite a challenge for Katie. “It was a tricky transition, but going back to university and becoming qualified as a journalist really helped. I still speak to my friends who are players, so I’m still very much a part of hockey, otherwise I think I would miss it massively,” she said.
Following the completion of her Masters, Shanahan applied for a BBC scheme called Kick-Off. The sports scheme helps train young people, who are interested in becoming sports reporters and offers them work experience at local radio stations, as well as receiving advice and mentoring from those working in the industry. The programme has also launched the careers of others now working in sports journalism such as Kate Mason and Emma Saunders. “It came up online and my friend messaged me to say she thought I’d be perfect for it. I applied, filled in the application form online and then got invited for an interview. I got selected for BBC Radio London. For 5 weeks you do work experience in local radio, which is amazing because you get to learn how the BBC operates and most importantly, how to be a sports reporter. London was an incredible patch because we had the Premier League, England football at Wembley, International rugby at Twickenham and Wimbledon, as well as this year having the Hockey World Cup. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard because you’ve only got one shot.”
Now she has been employed by the BBC for 15 months, starting with BBC London Sport, she has since gone onto work on BBC London TV. “I did a similar thing with them as I did at Chelsea TV, so mainly organisational, but I’ve also been lucky to do some presenting as well. I’ve been a part of BBC Radio London News where I read the news on Breakfast, daytime and overnight,” she said. Shanahan has recently secured a new position with the BBC and soon will be moving up to Manchester to be based at the BBC Sport Centre in Media City. “I’ll be reading the sports news on BBC Radio 5 Live throughout the day. I really can’t wait! I already spend a couple of days each week up there anyway, but it’ll be great to be up there with the whole team, who are all so lovely. There’s so many opportunities up there, but my main focus will be making sure I get the best content out there to the nation on 5 Live.” Katie explained.
Shanahan gets to work across different types of media, covering a variety of sports, but what links together her favourite pieces is the human side of the story, with her saying this is her preferred theme. “Transfer news, where you’re calling up a club and asking who’s in and who’s out, and then knowing that you are the only one who knows that news, gives me a real buzz. Ultimately, I love finding human interest stories though, those that everyone can relate to. It encourages people to talk about sport. They’re my favourite, as one of my main aims in life is to try and inspire people to get into sport, especially hockey.” Katie told me.
This summer’s Women’s Hockey World Cup was held in London and it was the first time we really got to see just how much the sport has grown since the Rio Olympics in 2016 where GB’s Women won gold. As someone who is passionate about promoting hockey, this was amazing for Shanahan to see. “I got really emotional at the first England game because there were 10,000 fans in the stands, there were 640 volunteers and the roar in the stadium was just incredible. The whole of England Hockey did such a good job, unfortunately the results didn’t go our way, but to see how well the Irish team did was absolutely amazing. It was just sensational to see how far hockey has come.”
Katie Shanahan started her sporting career as a hockey player, however after suffering a head injury from a ball resulting in plastic surgery, concussion and spinal repair, she decided to give up her playing career. Since then, she has gone on to do a Masters degree and for the last 15 months has been employed by the BBC. Soon she will be starting her new job, based in Salford at BBC Sport, where she is hoping that even more opportunities will come her way. Speaking of the advice she would give to those wanting to play sport, she said: “Try every sport possible and just see what you are good at. Don’t disregard any sport before you’ve tried it.” When it comes to sports journalism, she added: “Take every single opportunity you can with both hands and don’t look back. Speak to people and network. Look up the companies that you ideally want to work for and then contact them directly. I didn’t have any contacts, but along the way, I took people’s numbers and emails even if it was just to have a chat. It shows you can use your initiative and that you’re a good communicator. With sports journalism, you have to be prepared to work hard and have a lot of drive. Just make sure you keep striving for that end goal.”
All picture credits, unless specified, Katie Shanahan @KatieShanahan3