3 tips to help athletes thrive in professional sports
Making the jump to the next level can be nerve racking. I remember the anxiety I felt in the days and weeks leading up to my first preseason. I had no clue how to prepare. No clue how to handle myself as a professional. No clue what to expect. I don’t want athletes to go in blind like I did. Below are a few tips for aspiring professionals to prepare themselves for the professional environment and ideas on how they can thrive while they are there.
Go get what you want. Don’t be hesitant or shy because you’re afraid of rejection or you don’t have enough confidence in yourself. If you want to partner with a certain brand, reach out to them. They will either say yes, no, or not respond at all. Regardless, you’ve put yourself out there and now you know which brands are interested and which aren’t. As humans, we talk ourselves out of a lot of things simply because we are afraid of a potential negative results. You can’t do that, especially being an athlete. You have to take risks on the field and you have to take them off the field as well. Gamble on yourself, I guarantee it will pay off more times than not.
Have high standards for yourself and for those around you who are going to impact your career. Go find an agent who believes in you and your vision for the future. Find someone who can support you in all aspects of your life and really help you elevate your brand. Find a manager who can bring you opportunities that will expand your portfolio and push you to grow. Don’t compromise on the expectations you have for yourself or the people around you. No one else is going to care about your success more than you. If you’re paying people to work for you, set expectations and make sure they are met. Sitting around hoping that people are getting things done for you is a passive way to find yourself in a situation you’re unhappy with 2–3 years down the line.
“Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do” — H. Jackson Brown
They’re no friends in this business. Those are the words of the team president from my first professional team. He made a long speech in our locker room during preseason one day and those words were the ones that stuck with me the most. If you take that phrase literally, I would wholeheartedly disagree. I have great relationships with players, coaches, front office and league staff at every level of the game. But if you understand the true meaning of his statement then it can help guide your decision-making throughout your career.
Tough decisions have to be made every day in the sports world. You can’t make it about friendships because ultimately, it’s your career on the line. You’ll never hear me advocate for burning bridges. I am a relationship builder and I understand the importance of making connections. But you have to be decisive. You can’t hold onto relationships that may be negative or holding you back from your true potentially simply because you are friends. “They’re no friends in this business” simply means it isn’t personal. If you need to fire someone, do it in a respectable way and move on. If you need to sign with another team because they are making you a better offer then do what is best for your career.
It’s about taking control of your career and guiding it where you want. Be the conductor of your success bus, don’t be a passenger that has no clue where the ride ends. Step out of your comfort zone and step up into the leadership role of your life.
Be A Sponge
The day you step into the professional ranks, you’re going to walk into a locker room with a lot of different personalities. It’s no longer just for fun, this is a job and certain people are going to treat their job differently than others. I’ll never forget my first day walking into the locker room as a professional. I was intimidated and I kept my head down. But I observed. I noticed right away who the leaders were. The ones who were preparing for training as opposed to sitting in their lockers playing candy crush. If I had the right mindset, those would have been the people I gravitated towards more often.
Adapting to the professional ranks is a process, just like any other job. There is a learning curve and there are always high expectations. What habits can you create so the learning curve isn’t so steep? Where can you pick up those best practices in order to continuously meet expectations? Look around the locker room. There will most likely be players who are taking the right steps, day after day, to be successful. Talk to them, observe them, learn from them because they’ve been in your shoes before and made it past that stage successfully.
“Spend as much time as possible with people who truly know their craft and be a great listener. That is how you learn.” — Jerry Colangelo
I tell goalkeepers I work with all the time; not all advice is good advice. You have to figure out what advice works best for you and take bits and pieces to help mold your identity. Listen to the veterans. That doesn’t mean take every word they say as gospel. Truly listen and see what insight you can take that will help you both on and off the field. Some may consider me a veteran now (31 years young and 9 years professionally). Not everything I say is profound but I do have wisdom to give the next generation if they are willing to listen. No one is going to force you to take advantage of your surroundings, that decision is up to you.
Speaking of environment, recognize the opportunity you have as a professional. You’re surrounded by world-class athletes, top coaches, high-level executives, etc. Use these surroundings to your advantage. Get guidance from your coaches. Learn about the business of sports from the front office staff. These little interactions not only build relationships but help your grow as a person. Soak up as much as you can while you have the opportunity.
I didn’t know much about the professional life when I signed my first contract. I was used to being a college athlete. Going to weights in the early morning then heading to class. Lunch and then practice in the afternoon. Possibly study hall and some dinner in the cafeteria. Every now and then I would splurge on some Cookout. Everything was pretty structured and I did it all with my teammates and roommates. Fast forward to the professional world and it was totally different. I went to practice at 8 am, finished around 12 pm, and the rest of the day was mine to do what I wanted. At the age of 22, with no major bills or responsibilities, I sat in my room playing video games and watching Netflix. I lived with one other teammate who was significantly older and I wasn’t nearby my other teammates. My first few years as a professional, I spent a lot of wasted time laying in bed doing nothing.
Take advantage of your free time. Your number one focus is being a professional and your recovery is vital to your daily performance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore other interests off the field or get involved with your community. Look into some online courses that can help you advance your studies. There are plenty of local colleges and universities that offer electives for athletes looking to supplement their studies. Research possible internships. Spending a free hours during the day getting hands-on experience in a field that interest you can have a massive effect down the line. You have to be realistic. This professional athlete gig isn’t forever. You can focus on being the best athlete you can be while also dabbling in other beneficial activities.
Look no further than some of the most successful athletes in the modern day sports world. Big-name athletes are dabbling in all kinds of ventures outside of their sport. Andre Iguodala is heavy in the tech space. Tim Howard started commentating while still playing at a high level. World class athletes around the world run empires that encompass a wide variety of businesses. As an athlete, you can have access to A TON of opportunities outside of your sport. Explore. Engage. Grow.
“When I go speak to these kids through my foundation and am able to sit down and tell them some of the things that I’ve been through, they can look up and relate to me, and they can understand the feelings I had that are similar to what they’re going through and feeling.” — Marshawn Lynch
As an athlete, you also have to be aware of your platform and your impact. Whether you like it or not, kids look up to you. They aspire to reach the heights that you are currently experiencing. I’ve always felt an obligation to give back to those youth and the communities that I play in. Our impact as athletes can always be measured but it is most definitely felt by those around you. Get out and get to know the fans. Get to know the community you live in. The connections you make and the relationships you build can have a lasting impact beyond sports.
I could go on for days about the transition from amateur to professional sports but these are some of the best tips I have for athletes preparing to make the jump. The road will be bumpy but hopefully some of the advice I’ve given can help you along the way. Don’t get lost in the shuffle. Continue to shine and continue to forge your own path. If you have any questions or want to discuss any parts of the article, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn!