The ultimate dream for any athlete is to play their sport for a living. From the first bolt of adrenaline when you step on the field to the final whistle in a career, getting paid to play is considered by many to be the goal, the holy ground, the pinnacle of achievement. Unfortunately, for 99% of NCAA athletes, this dream doesn’t become a reality. And you know what that means….
You need to get a *gulp* JOB!
On the bright side, this doesn’t mean all that talent, hard work, and dedication was for nothing. Employers are looking for people who stand out, and collegiate athletes inherently possess qualities that make them hard not to notice. This NCAA study identifies several traits that make former athletes quality candidates in the job search but leaves the definitions of those traits relatively vague. In order to simplify, we can distill these qualities down into…
If you’ve dedicated your life to your sport, you’ve proven that you can handle a challenge, whether physical or mental. Ever broken out of a terrible losing streak? Come back from a nasty injury? Hit a new squat PR in the weight room? These achievements may seem mundane to you, but showing up in the face of adversity isn’t easy. There’s no place in the locker room for people who can’t push through a little pain, and the same principle applies in the board room.
In a typical week, an athlete has much more on their plate than a regular student. Class, practice, workouts, travel, games, and who knows what other obligations add up to a seemingly insurmountable to-do list. Greg from down the hall rolls out of bed at 11 to play Xbox, but you’re in the gym at 5 am, and the library till 10. You’re no stranger to the grind. Businesses need people who aren’t intimidated by responsibility, and you know how to handle a heavy workload.
Anyone who has played a sport at a high level knows that one thing matters above everything else: Results. When a play goes awry and a game is lost, you don’t point fingers or make excuses. You recognize your mistake, own it, and strive to do better next time. Just like in competition, missteps in the workplace are constant. The ability to accept fault, learn from it, and move on is paramount for success in athletics, and professional success is no different.
The reality is, when you start a new job, you’re going to have no idea what you’re doing. You might have all the skills and confidence in the world, but someone is going to have to show you the ropes. The best athletes are extremely coachable and can put instruction into action quickly and effectively. Employers don’t want to hire people who think they know everything and can’t handle criticism. They want people who can take direction and adapt to a role.
Everyone has had a bad teammate. You know, the one who skips practice like it’s no big deal. Or refuses to pass unless they’re being quadruple teamed. Or whines to the coach about playing time. These people put their needs above the needs of the group, which eventually leads to their undoing. A company is a team, and the ability to mesh with your coworkers is crucial. Not only is a team player more productive, but nobody wants to hire someone they don’t get along with.
6. Fun Havingness
Why did you originally step on the field? Were you motivated by the potential of money, fame, notoriety, or respect? Probably not. You probably just wanted to have some fun. That’s a good thing. Doing things that you enjoy is important, ESPECIALLY when you’re looking for a job. Interviewers aren’t trying to hire a robot who loves spreadsheets and only wants to talk about work. Yeah, work is important, but it’s also important to be a relatable human being who has interests and hobbies. Sports are a common thread in humanity that bring people together and enrich our lives, whether we’re players or fans. As a part of that community, you should embrace your unique perspective on life as an athlete and leverage that as an entertaining quality that makes you likable the moment you walk through the door. Don’t just acknowledge your athletic career, own it!
How long did it take you to get good at your sport? How many hours did you spend shooting free throws, playing wall ball, or working on your swing? How many mornings did you wake up with the same, singular goal in mind? How many nights did you go to bed beat up, mentally drained, and ready to do it all again the next day? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a tight spiral or a silky jump shot. As a collegiate athlete, you’ve shown that you’re committed to the process, and companies value people who don’t give up and are in it for the long haul.
These qualities are all pillars of athletic success. Nobody reaches their potential without possessing some or all of these traits, and when you find a way to highlight and leverage your unique perspective and skill set, companies will be lining up to get you in the door.