[Ed.: “What are your secrets to success…” is a series written for College AD by the co-author of 20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro, Jake Hirshman.]
It’s amazing that a sales effort could reveal new observations into student-athlete development. I’ve already talked about my first six observations in the articles “BUY-IN” and “Participation.” Here are the final four I’d like to add.
While attempting to sell my book, 20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro, I had the privilege of learning about student-athlete development from athletic directors, directors of student-athlete development, life skills coordinators, and other leadership and career development personnel. I had spoken with representatives of more than 105 Division-I schools at this point, as well as a couple Division-II and III schools, and all that contact lead to some interesting observations.
Observation 7: Many schools focus on the transition into school, but very few focus on the transition into life and out of sport. Is it the responsibility of the staff, coaches, and administrators to make sure each student-athlete is prepared for life after sports?
Only some schools have student-athlete mandatory classes for freshman when they start their first semester. And very few have classes for seniors transitioning out.
Focusing on helping student-athletes adapt to being a collegiate athlete is certainly important as most are away from home, living with a roommate, making their own schedule, etc. This should be mandatory for all schools as they welcome their student-athletes onto campus.
However, the transition out of sport and into life is just as important, if not more, and it is more difficult than the transition into college. 20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro discusses how to prepare for the transition, and I believe that it is the responsibility of the athletic department and school to make sure ALL of their student-athletes are prepared for their transition.
The point of being a student-athlete is to be able to compete at a high level and take advantage of the resources available to help get your degree and launch yourself into your career and the real world. Having classes and programs for juniors and seniors to focus on the transition is extremely important in producing proud and successful student-athlete alumni.
Observation 8: The majority of programs offered are optional and not mandatory as the only thing every school has is a SAAC, but that is only for a select group of student-athletes. Mandatory and integrated is the way that these programs should exist.
Most of the schools I have spoken with who have their programs optional don’t see high participation rates. It is the overarching issue that student-athletes don’t think they need help or are too tired to attend extra events where optional programs aren’t effective. The ones who take advantage of the optional programs are the ones who need it the least, even though everyone needs them.
No matter what the reasons are, it is certainly possible to make programs mandatory. All that is needed is buy-in from the coaches and the administrators. Anything is possible, but one of the obstacles that prevent schools from making their programs mandatory is that “it has always been done this way.”
Getting out of that mindset, and having a growth mindset is what will enhance the student-athlete experience for those to come. Recognizing that the problem of student-athletes neglecting extra resources is actually a problem, and finding solutions to the problem by making programs mandatory is a step in the right direction.
Observation 9: Many departments focus on Resumes, Cover Letters, Mock Interviews, and Dress etiquette. Very few focus on networking with alumni, or internship placement assistance.
Resumes, cover letters, and mock interviews are very basic foundations that can be addressed by career development staff and the on-campus career centers. It is certainly important to cover because it is a big part of the job search process, but networking is how you get the interview and a potential foot in the door. Networking will not only help in the short term but also the long term. The relationship building skill is not developed enough in student-athletes, who have a platform to leverage more than anyone else in terms of getting to speak with people they don’t know.
In getting a job out of school, most of the time it isn’t because of what you know, or because of what school you went to, it’s because of who you know. Departments need to focus more on the hard skills that are necessary to be developed prior to graduation.
Observation 10: There may be 1-2 people that are full-time in student-athlete development, but the rest of the personnel are made up of part-time staff and graduate assistants. And for the schools that don’t have the resources, they don’t have departments.
The biggest problem that part-time staff and graduate assistants present is that they aren’t always there, and GA’s have specific term appointments where the department has to constantly train new personnel every year or two. There is nothing wrong with having GA’s as extra help in certain areas of the department, but when they are essentially acting as what full-time personnel should be, it presents obstacles. Consistency and people that these student-athletes can build relationships with his key for their development. Part-time staff also have other jobs in which they can’t be fully committed to the student-athletes in the way they should be.