I was watching Allyson Felix win the 400m at the 2015 world championships with amazement. As a fellow Trojan I was very proud of what she just accomplished. Then I had a few thoughts. She is probably at the top 1% of all of the athletes in the world. She doesn’t need the talk about back up plans. She seems to have a good head on her shoulders and has made a great living for herself as an athlete. But unfortunately for the rest of us, there can only be one Allyson or any other supreme athlete for that matter. What happens when you don’t reach that supreme level as an athlete? Maybe the better question is what is your own supreme level? Maybe it’s making it to the varsity team your senior year. How about making to a college team and playing in the national championship game? Also what happens to those of us that never get to the NBA or the Olympics? Is that the end?
For your professional playing career, maybe it is. But there’s so much more to all of us than just being an athlete. Our society puts a big premium on being an athlete. Looking at the revenues generated by sports you can see why. However, should our life goals be tied with just being an athlete? The answer to that should be a resounding no. Being a student athlete can open up many doors. One of those doors is access to college. Going to college on an athletic scholarship is a very attainable goal. Getting a scholarship to a prestigious university is a big deal and a major accomplishment. That opportunity to go to school for free as a student athlete is just the beginning. That time in school is the perfect opportunity to develop separate identities and set yourself up for life after athletics. What happens when you’re on that college campus can make the difference when your playing days are over. I had the pleasure of speaking to a young man from Loyola Marymount University named Leron Armstead at one of our Student Athlete symposiums (LASA). He reflected on his time as a basketball player at LMU and commented that he was going to maximize his collegiate experience which included a master’s degree. All paid for because he was a student athlete. He was able to leverage his time in college as a student and an athlete to receive a free education. If all of us can maximize our experience as a student athlete like Leron did, I believe we would see much better outcomes from our college experiences.
Lastly I want to leave you with a word from Yogi Roth, a LASA keynote speaker. He gave a story about football being the love of his life and having to break up with his love eventually. All of us have that moment when we realize we are no longer going to be a competitive athlete at the highest level possible. What happens to you when that decision is made (and hopefully it’s you making the decision not someone else)? Have you done enough during your student athlete experience to take on those other identities you’ve been developing? Are you going to go through life wondering what if? Or are you going to shift gears and BE MORE than just an athlete. All athletes have this dilemma so be prepared for that day so the transition away from athletics is seamless.