Chris Cusiter’s Transition in the USA

@chriscusiter via Twitter

Here we take a look into the Chris Cusiter’s transition into the real world. I didn’t know at the time of 2005 when he and I played in the Manawatu vs British & Irish Lions match that we would become team mates.

He had stints at Glasgow Warriors, Border Reiver and Perpignan where they won the Top14. He was always quite quiet and reserved but when he gave you the stare, you knew he meant business. He was a tough little bugger!

The 70 capped Scottish international joined Sale Sharks in 2014 till 2016 where he pulled the curtains on his rugby career to start a new chapter of his life. Cusiter had his eyes on the whisky industry before finishing professional rugby and when he got the opportunity, he decided to move his family over to Los Angeles, California, to give it a crack.

What is your business in Long Beach California? 

I own a whisky retail business based in Los Angeles, California. LoveScotch is the e-commerce website and is the store. I’m planning on changing the name soon as it was an existing business that I bought but it’s been a busy time and it hasn’t been a priority. We specialise in Scotch whisky which has become a big passion of mine.

How have you found life in the real world?

The first 6 months were a massive roller coaster of emotion, stress and excitement. It was a bit overwhelming at first as the reality of my lack of real world experience kicked in and I realised how steep the learning curve was. Plus the added pressure of trying to keep the business afloat and support the family in an expensive city like Los Angeles was always there in the background. I can look back on it now and smile but it was one of the hardest times of our lives. Nearly two years in and I know what I’m doing now. It’s still a huge challenge but I’m enjoying it more and more and the stress levels aren’t what they were in 2016!

Did you plan ahead before retiring?

I had a lot of help from Rowan and Rhona Shepherd at Red Sky Management. Rowen was my agent during my playing career and we went through a lot together. His sister Rhona is a business performance coach and she was massively helpful in preparing me for the transition between rugby and the next phase of my career. I did a bit of work experience with them and some other companies and ruled a couple of potential routes out. Then when I decided that whisky was the way forward it was full steam ahead. I invested in 2015 and worked hard in my last year of playing to try and ease the transition and learn as much as I could. 

Do you think it was important to plan for post rugby while playing?

I think it is but it’s definitely not easy. Rugby can be all consuming and at certain times of the year you are exhausted. As the season kicks in there is enough free time to plan, work or study for the next chapter but it’s probably only later in your career that you realise it. There is a pressure that comes with advancing years that I found certainly helped me to get motivated and start working towards something. I didn’t have that pressure when I was 24 years old but at 32 it was a different story.

What was the first day of working like?

I had one day in particular, somewhere near the start, where I felt totally lost and overwhelmed. I had bought this business that I really knew very little about and all of a sudden I was in charge. I felt like a bit of a fraud. I didn’t even know what the American coins were (the 10c coin looks a lot like a British 5p, in my defence!) and it was somewhat embarrassing. I had to try and figure out what a normal working day looked like, or at least what it was going to look like for me. I’ve always had a good work ethic and I just tried to apply that. I put in a lot of hours in that first year – working 6 or 7 days most weeks, long days – and it helped to get me up to speed. 

What challenges have you found in the real world?

In the world of professional rugby most people are highly motivated and ambitious. I quickly realised that isn’t the case in the real world. Plus, there a lot of sharks out there! Plenty of people can talk a good game but not everyone can deliver. You get found out quickly in professional rugby but not so much it seems in the real world. 

Do you miss the rugby side of your life or is retirement what you needed?

Honestly, I don’t really miss the playing any more. I was ready to retire and I’m glad I stopped when I did. I miss the lads, the dressing room and the winning feeling after a game but I don’t particularly miss playing. I always wanted to have my own business and I’m enjoying the challenge.

Do you set yourself goals in the real world like you did in rugby?

I have some goals about how big I want to grow the business. So far I’m on track and in 3 years time I hope to hit that goal. I regularly write lists of what i want to achieve that week or that month and it helps to have them written down. My over-riding goal is progression. I like to see the business progress. If a few weeks have gone by and things haven’t moved on, I get frustrated. I feel that if I keep making small improvements every week then in 3 years time I’ll have a great business that I can be proud of. 

What advice can you give for those coming into there last days of rugby?

I would say that all the qualities that made you successful as a rugby player are fully transferrable to the real world and can set you apart. However, you have to be willing to work harder than most to learn and make up the ground on people who have perhaps 10-15 years experience on you. Also, forget about the mid-week days off and 5 week long summer holidays! Those days are about to be over!

After a highly successful career, what advice do you have for the ambitious kids wanting to be professional rugby players?

Keep it fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself about selection or winning. Keep working hard on improving your game. Be as fit as you can be. Listen to good coaches and seek out advice from people you look up to. 

Cusiter’s Best XV:

1. Nicolas Mas – ‘Le Bus’ – French powerhouse. Used to demolish scrums.

2. Guilheim Guirado – So much raw power and aggression. 

3. Vadim Cobilas – One of the toughest men around!

4. Al Kellock – One of the best captains and leaders. There were more talented but he was hugely influential and great all round team mate.

5. Nathan Hines – big, skilful, niggly, and as tough on the pitch was he was laid back off it.

6, Jason White – I can still remember those big hits when we beat England in 2006 at Murrayfield. Top bloke and top player.

7. John Barclay – playing some of the best rugby of his life. All the skills. 

8. Henry Tuilagi – I’ve never seen power like he had. Unbelievably explosive and aggressive. Amazing to play with. Horrible to play against. 

9. Mike Blair – Annoyingly clever player. Much preferred when he was coming off the bench for me but plenty of times it was the other way around.

10. Dan Carter – only a few games before he got injured at Perpignan but what more is there to say? Probably the greatest fly half of all time.

11. Shane Williams – electric feet and acceleration. Much better to play with than against.

12. Sam Tuitupou – Pound for pound the biggest tackler I ever played with. Crazy off and on the pitch.

13. Will Addison – I loved playing with guys like Will. He would absolute smash people and give it everything whenever he took the pitch. Plus he’s massively talented. 

14. Jason Robinson – He still remembers when I set him up for that try against Manawatu (weren’t you playing in that game Johnny?!)

15. Stuart Hogg – Has all the skills, athleticism and attitude. The complete player and so young!

Cusiter’s winners predictions:

The premiership – Exeter Chiefs

Top 14 – Racing Metro

Pro14 – Leinster

Champions Cup – Leinster

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