The Reality Facing Athletes Today

The Old Way vs. The New Way

Many of you will also be old enough (or wise enough) to see how times have changed in the average “athlete-centric life-cycle.” In the past, the old athlete-centric lifecycle went something like this:


* Grow up (eventually)
* Play many sports (for fun)
* Become really good at one sport (or two, or three)
* Go to college and play ball (have fun for 4 years)
* Graduate (usually)
* Get a career (something really terrific and rewarding)
* Get married (once, or twice if you’re lucky)
* Raise a family (or two)
* Retire (after 25+ years at the same company and a nice pension with benefits)
* And, lastly, here’s the good part… then die and go to heaven (hopefully)


Today, the new athlete-centric lifecycle we experience goes something like this:


* Grow up (faster than ever)
* Play one sport exclusively (join the 10 & under travelling team)
* Try to avoid burnout on sports (usually around age 17)
* Go pro or go to college and play ball (work your butt off year-round until you quit or are cut)
* Graduate (maybe, after 6 years)
* Get a job (and then about 10 more and 3 different careers over your lifetime)
* Get married (maybe, once, or twice if you’re lucky)
* Raise a family (if that’s your thing and you have the time/money)
* Retire (after 40+ years funding your own retirement plan and rising health care costs)
* And, lastly, here’s the really good part… then die and go to heaven (hopefully)


Times Have Changed

The time has come whereby everybody associated with competitive athletics—administrators, coaches, parents… even YOU!—need to wake up, step up, and commit to your career in ways you may have never thought of or have been told about. And the earlier you do this in your athletic life, the better. On the whole, society has just come off a decade of entitlement and instant gratification, in which a worldwide attitude of “What’s in it for me?” was the general attitude held by most athletes. The world today is a very different place. Now, athletes are asking the question:


“What’s going on, and how will it affect me?” The simple answer is that times have changed.


The more complex answer that is as an athlete-centric culture, we have been asleep at the wheel, caught up in believing that a 100 percent commitment to organized sports would always produce a great outcome in our life. But sadly, unless you’re making seven figures a year and signed to a multi-year deal, being a good athlete is no guarantee that you will succeed in your career after sports… or even find a job, for that matter.


I love the saying “Instant gratification takes too long” and I agree. But there is no escaping the fact that you will have to commit nearly the same amount of time, energy, and self-responsibility you applied to sports if you want to be just as successful in your career.


Game On!

I have been advising thousands of highly competitive athletes on how to prepare for the proverbial “life after sports”… and help them make the most of their career choices and opportunities. The main core of my advice centers around two central themes:


* First, you must thoroughly understand the vast array of “transferable skills” acquired through athletic experiences and how to leverage them in your job search and career, and,

* Second, you must thoroughly understand, and commit to a list of fundamental disciplines about self-assessment, going about your job search and career growth in the correct (and intelligent) fashion, and seeking out and learning from others who have successfully traversed the road before you.


It’s important to realize that we are now living in times where most of the rules have changed… especially when it comes to the timing of making important life decisions and nurturing a meaningful career. In the old days (around ten years ago or so) career planning and career development was rewarded mostly by just showing up to the interview.


Today, though, career planning and development requires more preparation and effort, and a little luck. The bottom line is, today, if you want to achieve success in your career, the fundamentals are still the same as they were yesterday but you must begin to think about your career much earlier in life and remember that preparation and effort are key, most important ingredients.


“Welcome to The Rest of Your Life”

…and welcome, I might add, to one of the most critical challenges facing most competitive athletes”.


It’s a known fact that many competitive athletes are not well prepared for the transitional challenges that face them as they move from playing on a team to the highly competitive work world. But I have worked with thousands of competitive athletes over the years, and the one thing that stands out in almost every athlete I’ve met is that athletes, in general, are very talented men and women capable of achieving any goal they set their mind towards.


While it sounds scary, the transition to the work world after an exciting career of competitive athletics should (and will) be one of the most enjoyable periods in your life. Most importantly of all, most of you will find jobs and enjoy plentiful careers that build on your positive attitudes, strengths, and values and utilize many of the skills that helped form you into a successful athlete in the first place.


Whether or not your transition from athlete-to-career will be stressful will depend on a couple of important factors:


* First, how do you perceive the transition? For example, do you see this termination as a beginning with exciting new challenges and opportunities to be enjoyed, or do you view it in your sports career as a significant loss, leaving you devastated, disoriented, and without direction or meaning in your life?

* Second, what is your identification with the athlete role? Student-athletes who identify strongly with multiple roles (such as those of athlete, student, family member, and significant other) are more likely to cope effectively with the transition than those who see themselves solely as an athlete.


Tunnel Vision Syndrome

Here’s the problem  in a nutshell: the transition that men and women competitive athletes must make from a lifetime of sports to the working world does not come as easily as hitting a ball, running a play, or achieving your best time. As an athlete, this difficult transition can be the biggest emotional and psychological challenge that you will face in your lifetime—one for which you might oftentimes be unprepared, and one in which there is little wise advice and counsel from that ever-present “coach” you’ve had by your side since the Pee Wee leagues.


A “tunnel vision syndrome” affects all highly competitive athletes to varying degrees at some stage of their lives. Parents can see it, high school coaches and college athletic administrators can see it, professional sports agents and general managers see it… and, yes, hiring managers see it at companies large and small all across America. Unfortunately, athletes who are unaware that they suffer from tunnel vision spend way too much time thinking only about sports (training, competition, etc.) and, as a result, young athletes are left ill-prepared for the balanced perspective required of “real world” career opportunities. Some call this behavior crazy or blind, some call it self-centered, and some call it selfish. I call it “tunnel vision.” But no matter what you call it, the effect of this kind of one-track thinking is the same… and you have to snap out of it!