The NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar is an annual three-day professional development event, held January 25-27, and composed of 200 plus current young professionals within collegiate athletics with most attendees being in their first five years in the field. The Emerging Leaders Seminar focused on educating attendees on the various career specialization areas within collegiate athletics, lateral networking, assessing personal strengths, and consisted of a number of experienced speakers from all realms of the industry. I have been privileged to attend many professional development opportunities, but this was truly one of the most vital because it was tailored to the young professional demographic.
Day 1: Know Yourself and Others
I usually bemoan personality assessments, feeling as if they are too broad to truly be useful, however the DiSC assessment changed my stance a bit. The DiSC assessment hones in on how an individual engages conflict, what they prioritize in completing work, and various individual stressors. After being assessed we were broken into groups and tasked with completing different assignments. The most interesting part of this was not just that the assessment was largely spot on for me, but the camaraderie that was quickly formed by being grouped with those who aligned with my same category. The assessment is not just about understanding yourself better but also understanding others and how to best communicate with them. I am personally a big fan of studying emotional intelligence, and the DiSC assessment serves as a great method of bringing practicality to the art of understanding others. The most important lesson I took away from this is the importance of highlighting every part of DiSC in ourselves and others to create the best teams, especially because athletic departments are more like families than just workplaces.
Day 2: Crash Course
The day’s speakers and seminars ranged from philosophical oversight of, “why college athletics matters” to, “understanding the thought process of search committees.” I relived being a 19-year-old just figuring out that my passion for sports, education, and justice could culminate in a career in athletics administration. At the same time, I relished the future of sitting in front of a search committee someday sharing my “why” and my vision for a department and university. Meanwhile, in real time we were allowed to choose our current specialization and another area that we could see ourselves working in. Though I learned more about the growth of the student-athlete development sector, the most important lesson I gained was that positions are made for people with unique experiences to offer so instead of specializing, young professionals need to grasp at every straw to broaden our perspectives. For example, I have worked in ticketing, operations, development, student-athlete development, all in the last 365 days. It is through this willingness to explore the field that young professionals will be more prepared for the next step of our careers.
Day 3: So Hard to Say Goodbye
The hardest part of any immersive journey is waking back up and realizing you have to head home after making so many new connections and furthering developing others. That brings me to the third day one of our speakers emphasized a few lessons that I feel the need to repeat verbatim. First, “We all have a gift and our gifts are here to be shared”- Felicia Martin, NCAA VP of Eligibility. We are all talented in some form or fashion, but it is about taking our talents and relating that to our work in some way. Our talents often align with the passion within us, and it is very necessary to take that innate energy and turn it into meaningful work. Martin further expanded that even as young professionals we need to establish a mission statement and adapt it as we grow. The last thing that we need to do is move forward directionless. Life, of course, will be filled with twists and turns, but these events are optimized by being intentional in our actions and avoiding regrets. Lastly, do not concern ourselves with the title of the job, but instead, think about if you’d still want that role if you never knew the title. Titles don’t get you through the long hours, it is our vision and passion that do so.
There are so many notes that I was not able to share but anyone is free to contact me to discuss my experience at ELS in more detail. I will say that the most important part of the conference were not the talented staff and speakers that we were able to indulge in for those three days. The most important part of attending ELS were the 221 other young professionals who share the passion for Student-Athletes that I do. To see the gleam in another person’s eye when they talk about something that is so meaningful to you is a transcendent experience. It is easy to think of myself as an individual working toward enhancing the lives of young men and women, but we have to realize that in our journey we are not alone. Our peers are our teams, and it is very important that we don’t spend all of our time trying to network up when we need to be networking laterally as well.
Erick Taylor is an aspiring college sports professional and MPSA candidate attending Texas A&M University. Originally from the Greater Atlanta area, Erick received his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University, where he also served as a development intern for the Panther athletic department. A young, relatively inexperienced prospect in this industry, Erick is in search of the tools and skills required for success. By sharing his journey, he hopes to help others achieve their professional goals as well.