Today, amateur athletes and their parents are realizing that a singularly focused, over-commitment to competitive athletics has produced an unintended consequence of crisis proportions.
Throughout America, over 400,000 men and women athletes compete in intercollegiate sports programs and another record-high 7.5 million athletes compete at the high school level. And just like professional and elite athletes, amateur athletes now spend more time than ever perfecting their skills and dealing with increased time demands from coaches for training, conditioning, film, travel, games and team activities.
The good news is that in Division 1 sports at NCAA colleges, student-athletes are graduating at the highest rates ever, according to the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rates (GSR). The most recent GSR data show that 79% of freshmen student-athletes who entered college in 2001 earned their four-year degrees. Even when calculating graduation rates using the federal government’s methodology, Division 1 athletes now graduate at rates higher than the general student body.
Maximizing performance (winning) has now begun to take time from academic course options in college, compromised social and extracurricular opportunities, and generally has limited the non-sports related life experiences of young athletes. When the day finally comes to hang up their Speedo, cleats or pads, many athletes (and parents) are beginning to notice they are ill prepared for the balanced perspective now required of ‘real world’ career opportunities.
Hiring managers and HR professionals across America readily identify the athlete DNA as a very valuable commodity in the workforce. Confidence, discipline, loyalty, resilience, persistence...sports has always been a terrific and proven learning ground for life skills.
However, it is important to realize that we are now living in times when most of the rules of the employment market have changed. In the old days, career planning and development for athletes was rewarded mostly by networking and showing up for the interview. Today, competing successfully in the work place requires more preparation and effort. Also, you better come to the interview with some previous experience (part-time jobs, internships, even volunteerism). Unfortunately, today’s athletes possess very little work experience as a result of increasing time constraints.
Yes, I approve of the competitive athlete experience. It is truly a lifetime reward that prepares you for many of the challenges that lie ahead in your personal and professional life. But, as parents, coaches and administrators, we must step away from the ’arms race’ that is seemingly driving every team to demand more time for the game of sports, and limiting valuable opportunities for athletes to adequately prepare for the game of life.
For the athlete, the bottom line in today’s marketplace is clear: if you want to achieve success in your post-athletic career, you have to assume more self-responsibility and gather broader life and work experiences while you compete. Living in a post-industrial, high-tech society requires prospective employees to demonstrate both intelligence and concrete work skills- not just athletic accomplishments or a recommendation from important alumni. Lacking the necessary skills and mobility required for getting the good jobs of tomorrow will be tough obstacles to overcome if all you have to show on your resume is a long history of touchdowns and team spirit.
My best advise? Don’t be asleep at the switch. Unless you’re making seven-figures a year and signed to a multi-year contract, being a good athlete is no guarantee that you will succeed in your career after sports…or, for that matter, even find a job.
Russ Hafferkamp is a former NCAA athlete, CEO of the Athlete Career Network, Inc. and Managing Director of Career Athletes, LLC. Russ is recognized as a leader and coach in the career planning of high school, collegiate and elite athletes and author of ‘CareerBall: The Sport Athletes Play When They’re Through Playing Sports’.