Why This One University Graduates Career Ready Athletes
In our work with sports teams across the nation, we come across some stellar athletic departments every year; ones that model what leadership should look like.
Case in point. Career readiness is now a focal point for educators, both in high school and college settings. Too often, students graduate ill-prepared for work. Even if they made good grades in class, they can lack the soft skills or work experience to prepare them for a career upon graduation. This can be an acute need in Division One athletics, where players are required to invest 40 hours a week in their sport, outside of a full load of classes. Time demands have never been greater. Athletes can graduate, but they’ve never had time to experience an internship or study abroad.
Enter the University of Nebraska.
Seeing the Big Picture
For years, Nebraska’s athletic department has graduated top-level students who lead the way in academics, athletics, and community involvement. Now, they’ve created a “Post Eligibility Opportunity” (PEO) program for students who’ve finished playing sports, but still need to get ready for what’s next. It’s a program that helps them turn “pro” in something other than their sport.
“The whole program is meant to provide you these opportunities to get you the experience and expertise you need to land a full-time job,” says Ashley Stone, who works with Keith Zimmer in the life skills department and is the PEO coordinator. Athletic Director, Shawn Eichorst, summarized it well: “We’re going to help you get an internship, we’re going to help you travel abroad, and we’re going to help you get started in grad school.”
Nebraska takes pride in equipping its athletes for something the rest of the student body got in college, but they didn’t have time for it—due to their sport. They didn’t have time to build a resume, to find a job, or to get some experience. You can imagine, this is a huge selling point for coaches when talking to recruits and parents.
Coaching Goes Both Ways
All of this reminds me that our vision must go 360 degrees. By this I mean, we need to see all sides of an issue. Let’s be honest. We say these kids are student athletes, but in reality—often it becomes more about winning the game so we can keep our jobs. They’re players. Their performance is our report card. But, is it theirs? Nebraska essentially asked: What do our students need from us that they’re not getting, since we ask so much from them? It’s a timely question.
So, what if you and I paused to consider both sides to these three issues:
Issue One: What I Need From You
As their coach, you naturally tell them: This is what I need from you—discipline, resilience, and tenacity. Teams can’t win without those qualities. They stand in contrast to the normal work ethic of too many students today.
What if you asked them: What do you need from me? They might surprise you. If they were honest and aware, they might say—I need you to equip me for a career, following my time on this campus. I need you to prepare me for what’s coming.
Issue Two: The Example You Set
You naturally tell them: I need you to be model students. Please go to class, do your homework and stay out of trouble on weekends. It makes sense not just for NCAA compliance; it’s what all student athletes should exemplify for their scholarship.
What if you asked them: What do you need me to model? Again, they might surprise you. For many, they still need to see an adult role model. Too many don’t have fathers present in their lives. Too many have not seen a well-adjusted adult who sets a healthy example.
Issue Three: What Winning Means
You naturally tell them: I need you to keep the team in mind. We need to win. My job is on the line. Don’t just focus on your own playing time, your own statistics or your own platform. See the big picture. It’s part of what growing up is all about.
What if you asked them: What do you need me to keep in mind? If they were honest, they’d say: I need you to keep me, as an individual, in mind. Assure me that if I am “all in” for this team, you’re paying attention to my best interests upon graduation.
I believe if we demonstrate we have their future in mind, they may just pay better attention to today’s scorecard as well.
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