Even with the new standards set at this year’s NCAA Convention, time demands still remain an issue at large for student-athletes. And while the new legislation addresses incorporating some free time for student-athletes, it is still only freeing up hours in minimal time spans throughout the year.
Freeing up a consecutive full-time, 12-week period is very challenging for student-athletes today. This is due largely to the fact that requirements for most sports take place year-round. There is no “off-season.” As much as advisors and career development support staff would like this time to be used for alternate purposes, this time is simply viewed as an opportunity to ramp up training to get ahead for the next competition season.
As a result, the majority of student-athletes miss out on an opportunity that most college students take advantage of–internships. Without this valuable experience, many student-athletes begin their professional careers feeling unprepared. They also have a hard time getting a job without having the same experience level as their peers.
What can be done to eliminate this divide? We must redefine what today’s internship experience looks like.
With the existing academic rigors and requirements, as well as the necessary amount of training in and out of a sports season at most Division I universities, it’s virtually impossible to expect a student-athlete to have time to do an internship of “traditional” length within whatever “free time” they have available to them during the academic year.
A “traditional” internship or study abroad experience usually takes place over an extended period of time (typically more than a few weeks) and often can’t be completed over spring break or in between athletic seasons. The basic idea of the internship and the opportunities provided to student-athletes generally need to be addressed if we want student-athletes as a whole to be able to gain experience during the academic year, while also playing sports.
How can this be addressed?
- Further education of employers and recruiters on working with student-athletes. Companies can gain a better understanding of how they can work with athletic departments and student-athletes, as well as the time demands placed on student-athletes and the flexibility required to employ such an individual. In addition, learning more about the transferable skills that come from the typical student-athlete experience is also something that could be beneficial.
- Offer different formats and structures of engagement. Rather than offering a typical 20-40 hour per week engagement, companies can create meaningful engagements in smaller doses to capitalize on the free time that student-athletes have. Many student-athletes can complete a few hours of work here-and-there or do short-term, project-based work. Restructuring internships like this could benefit both the employer and the student-athlete.
- Student-athletes should prepare earlier and look at all their options. For some student-athletes, career development and internships are an afterthought and the preparation often starts very late into their college experiences. And while there is always a lot to manage, there can be ways to integrate and balance this type of work. Student-athletes can look for opportunities to engage with employers earlier so as to at the very least start building their networks and begin to collaborate.
- Athletic departments can work with employers to identify new opportunities and collaborations. By these two groups working together more closely, employers can get better access to student-athletes, thus helping them with future recruiting efforts. Likewise, athletic departments can help employers to design unique ways to work with their student-athletes throughout the year — based on what their specific needs are. This could entail remote work, project work, part-time participation or on campus engagements.
Student-athletes have phenomenal skill sets, but limited time. If companies start to view the internship through a new lens, they will likely find that the time demands of student-athletes don’t have to be a limiting factor.
Somewhere in the midst lies the sweet spot, and once companies grasp this they will have opened the door to a whole new segment of talent.