How to Practically Encourage Student-Athletes

By February 10, 2015 No Comments

Written by John Blanchard

A recent article in INSIDE HIGHER ED titled “College athletes greatly overestimate their chances of playing professionally” addressed the issue of collegiate student-athletes having an unrealistic perception of their chances of making the professional ranks.

The article goes on to explain that the odds of a college athlete making it in the pros is very slim–1.2% of college men basketball players; 1.6% of college football players. The perception of the players themselves, however, is quite different–76% of men’s basketball players and 52% of football players think they will make it in the pros.

NCAA President Emmert is quoted as asking, “How can we help them understand the realities of what that looks like? What can we change to give them a more realistic sense of it? How do we get a handle on that? How can we provide them with a greater sense of the realities and what that looks like?”

The article states that most athletic departments give their athletes the statistics and some emphasize it more than others.

This reminds me of the story that Stephen Covey used to tell…. A group of loggers were working feverishly chopping down trees in the forest. Someone from a nearby mountaintop yells down to them, “Hey, you down there!” They look up and reply, “What do you want!? We’re busy! Leave us alone!” To which the observer responds, “Wrong forest!”

Emmert, according to the article, is concerned that, “Explaining to athletes that their passion–and years of hard work–is not likely to lead to a career is an uncomfortable but necessary conversation to have.”

Wrong conversation! It is fruitless to discourage college student-athletes from having their dream and striving to reach it. It has most likely been a dream their entire life. In collegiate student-development programming we are constantly telling them to dream big, to pursue their passions, to be that special one that works hard, is goal-directed, and never quits. But, then, are we to tell them, “But in this case, you are not being realistic.”? Realism is not in the forest of young dreamers and passion seekers. And I’m not sure we want it to be.

Here is an alternative. “I love that you have set your sights on the NFL. You have worked so hard for so many years in football. And you have achieved a good deal already. The road ahead is difficult and full of challenges. But, I believe in you! And now, let’s talk about your career. Because the NFL is not a career. The NFL stands for “Not For Long” and for good reason. According to the most generous statistics, the average career in the NFL lasts 6.0 years. That will put you at age 28 when you retire. Then what?

True story: I worked with a young man who went into the NFL without earning his degree. He had a successful NFL career. playing longer than average and nearly three times the average of his position. A year after retiring he called me and said, “I have been playing around for a year since retiring and I am tired of it. I want a job. I want to have purpose in my life. And, all the jobs I want require a college degree.” Thankfully, he went back to school, finished his degree, and is employed in the career of his choosing.

Career interest inventories like the iStartStrong administered to first year students in GTG’s Game Plan is a great way to begin the conversation early.

Who are you when football is over?
What is your career going to be?

Football is not a career, it is a passion to be pursued for a brief time after college, then your career begins.