Advising the Student-Athlete During College and After the Game Ends

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More than 490,000 student-athletes compete in 24 NCAA sports every year, according to a report on Fewer than 2% of them will go on to play professionally, the report continues. With the chances of a pro career so low, student-athletes should have a game plan to address what happens when the buzzer sounds on their athletic careers.

Chalkboard Strategy Diagram

To help these young people transition to a career off the playing field, five experts in the sports business field recently wrote 20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro.

Similar to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, the book offers insights for student-athletes, athletic administrators, parents and coaches. The authors include two current professors at the Department of Sports Administration in Ohio University’s (OU) School of Business as well as two graduates of Ohio University’s online master’s in athletic administration program. Published by Ohio University Press, it is part of Ohio University’s sports management series.

Student-athletes who read the book should be able to identify ways to capitalize on the unique advantages of their status. Mentors can gain awareness of the student-athlete experience and use it to provide informed guidance. Seeing that guidance come to fruition is what motivates those with a passion for leading young athletes to become athletic administrators.

The Rare Privileges of Being a Student-Athlete

Very few college students have the opportunity to be student-athletes. A well-thought-out strategy can help them capitalize on the benefits available during their campus experience.

“Think more about what having such a status and experience means for your life outside of seeking professional or Olympic opportunities – which few get,” says Norman O’Reilly, PhD, one of the authors and chair of the Department of Sports Administration at Ohio University’s College of Business

To O’Reilly, the overall message of the book can be summed up by secret number 17: Activate Your Student-Athlete Advantage.

Those advantages include tutors provided by the athletic department. Tutors can help student-athletes succeed academically while also balancing the other demands of campus life. Student-athletes also have the chance to network with former players and alumni who can open the door to jobs for athletes after college.

Successful athletes always have a game plan. They never want to get down to the final seconds and realize they missed an opportunity to score.

“Taking advantage of being a student-athlete is something you can only do once, and many, if not all, will look back and wish they had done more,” says Jake Hirshman, one of the authors, who is manager of partnership services at Purdue at Learfield.

Steps to Take as Student-Athletes

Most student-athletes begin college with a simple list of goals, the authors write: “Get noticed, get media coverage, get drafted/selected.”

Given the odds, they need a more realistic strategy.

“The backup plan is going pro in your sport,” says Oliver Luck, executive vice president of the NCAA, who was quoted in the book. Plan A should be identifying ways to use the student-athlete experience as the foundation for a career.

Suggested steps a student-athlete can take, according to the book, include:

  • Creating and follow a student-athlete plan – before arriving on campus, write down goals to accomplish by graduation. Goals should include multiple components of campus life, e.g., academics, athletics and social activities.
  • Choosing a major carefully – student-athletes tend to be so focused on sports making the idea of a career an afterthought. A major should be selected based on personal skills and interests.
  • Seeking support everywhere – tap into the resources provided by the college, which can include tutors and career advisors.
  • Taking nothing for granted – always have a backup plan in case of a career-ending injury.

Goals help student-athletes make the best use of their time while enjoying the opportunities that come with their role. A solid post-college plan can smooth the transition from athletics to a career.

When a Playing Career Ends

The time eventually comes when players have to start thinking of themselves as former athletes.

But more than half of student-athletes (55.86%) struggle with transitioning away from competitive sports, according to Gameplan’s 2018 Student-Athlete Life After Sport Report.

The survey also found that:

  • 1% struggle after losing their sport as a competitive outlet.
  • 2% struggle with losing their identity as an athlete.
  • 35% felt a lack of support and mentorship during the transition.

When transitioning from athletics to a career, the authors of the book suggest:

  • Starting preparations for the transition during sophomore year – select a career and take the academic steps to earn a degree.
  • Creating a personal brand – shift focus away from being an athlete. Create an identity that will help further a working career, which could involve joining a professional organization or volunteering with a non-profit.
  • Moving on, mentally, as a senior – during that last year of eligibility, recognize that a professional sports career is not in the future.
  • Finding other passions in life – take up a new sport just for fun.

More than 20 million students attended college in 2017, according to Statista. Only 490,000, or 2.5%, of them were student-athletes, which illustrates how rare being a student-athlete is. Twenty Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro can help student-athletes and their mentors capitalize on the special opportunities that come with being part of this select group. The book also helps those who excel on the playing field develop a game plan for becoming standouts in the next phase of their lives.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration (MAA) Program

Twenty Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro was written by athletic practitioners who understand the value of having a game plan – because a student-athlete’s passion for sports doesn’t have to end when a playing career is over.

Ohio University offers a Master’s degree in Athletic Administration accredited by COSMA (the Commission on Sports Management Accreditation). Students learn from industry experts who help them understand what is required to run a successful interscholastic athletic department. Visit the MAA page for more information.

Recommended Reading:

3 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership in Athletic Programs

An Athletic Director’s Responsibilities and Career Outlook

Athletic Directors Working with The Community



Number of student-athletes:

Secrets to success: 20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Student-Athletes Who Won’t Go Pro

Life after sports report: Gameplan (free registration required for access)

Number of students in college: Statista