USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level.
Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft. Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
For many athletes, it’s difficult to imagine life after sports. However, there will come a day when every athlete will close his or her locker for the last time. This departure from organized sports is bittersweet, an ending of a tremendous era, but the start of many new adventures. Thankfully, former college athletes are well prepared to handle the challenges of post-athletic life, especially when it comes to thriving in the workplace.
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Former athletes tend to experience success in the workplace after college.
A study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies pointed out that former high school and college athletes tend to have higher-status careers than non-athletes. The study showed that employers expect former athletes to display significantly more leadership, self-confidence and self-respect than those outside of sports, which could be responsible for their placement in these higher-status roles. Former athletes also earn about 5-15% than non-athletes, an advantage that doesn’t exist for any other extracurricular activity.
50% of female executives surveyed competed in college sports
While athletes overall generally fare better than their non-athlete counterparts, female athletes have the biggest advantage of all. A recent study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW surveyed more than 400 female executives in five countries (20% were U.S. women). Of the top executives, more than half competed in collegiate sports, and only 3% of the women never participated in sports at all.
The study also pointed out that 3 out 4 C-suite women reported athletic participation influenced their hiring decisions, as former athletes tend to make for great professionals. They explained that athletes have intangibles like motivating others and bringing projects to completion, character traits not taught in the classroom.
Student-athletes develop invaluable workplace skills
Why is it that athletes move on to become great employees? Their success is linked to the skills that they gained in their sport, which directly transfer over to the workplace. At the end of the day, a professional workplace is very similar to the team environment athletes grew up in. Their familiarity with being part of a sports team gives them the skills to seamlessly adapt to the workplace. There are coaches and mentors, rules, teammates, goals, wins and losses. Athletes’ experiences with each of these factors gives them a script to pull from when transitioning to the workplace.
Mallory Winters, former four-year starting catcher for Butler University’s softball team, now coaches a U16 softball team and explains some of the top qualities she impresses upon her athletes that directly help them experience success in the workplace:
- Failure recovery: Winters defines this as the ability to fail and immediately bounce back. “This lesson in sports not only prepares them for what will happen in the real world, but it teaches them the mental toughness necessary to move beyond failures and still find success,” she says.
- Coach-ability: “As coaches, we try to impress upon our athletes that their way may not always be right,” she explains. “The willingness to accept feedback and translate it into action—whether it be a new hitting technique or a new pitch they learn—allows them to be better college players and employees for the many different bosses they will have.”
- Control the “controllables”: An athlete’s attitude, effort and engagement are all aspects of the game that they can control. It’s important for athletes to focus on these aspects that they can impact by their own decisions, and adapt to those outside of their control like the weather, umpires or the game’s outcome. “You control how you react and recover. In the workplace, the same rings true. Your effort and output matter, regardless of the circumstances that are out of your control,” she says.
- Work ethic: Athletes know what it’s like to work when they are tired, hurting, lacking sleep and so much more. They know how to push themselves just to make it to the next inning. Winters explains, “Athletes see the big picture and are diligent in the details, knowing that the ‘little things’ often matter the most.”
- Leadership: Winters points out that athletes not only understand how to be leaders, but also how to lead in the right direction. “Athletes know how to rally others behind them and push everyone’s mindset in the right direction,” she says.
- A focus on the team: Being a great teammate is not just about supporting each other during the highlights, but also pulling each other up when someone is falling behind. And this is a great skill to have in the ups and downs of the workplace. “When athletes see a teammate who is struggling, they are going to go out of their way to bring her back into the fold. They are competitive, but use it to push each other to be the best version of themselves possible.”
As athletes look to transition to the next phase of their life, they can use the power of their experience in sports to get hired after graduation. While hundreds of thousands of students graduate from college each year, only a very small percentage of them are athletes. Winters advises, “You bring something different to the table. Whether you were a team player, a role player or a walk-on, you’ve pushed yourself to the end of your rope, while also achieving in the classroom.” And this makes a difference.