Over the past five years or so, I’ve seen more live football games than I saw in my four years of college.
You might think that’s weird for someone who went to school in the SEC (a hotbed for college football) but, alas, I was a collegiate athlete. A collegiate athlete who shared the same Fall season as the South’s beloved college football and when we weren’t travelling or practicing or lifting or being tired and actually had a two-hour block on a Saturday to enjoy the games like all the regular students did…we just figured we’d watch it from home and re-hash the game with our friends.
Our friends were the ones on the field.
Kids just like us trying to figure it all out while carrying a full load of classes and training for our sport.
But college sports is much more than football. The University of Georgia alone has nineteen varsity sports teams comprised of anywhere from 20 to over 100 athletes per team and while we are full-time college students who enjoy being on a college campus and having a college experience, we are also in a microcosm that includes early registration, tutors, academic services, sports psychology counseling, food per diem, state of the art training facilities, sport specific athletic gear and nutrition plans to name a few – very few.
As wonderful as it all sounds (and it is most days), there comes a time when graduation nears and real life begins to set in.
I still remember the fresh sting of my first off-season after my playing career was over. I didn’t need to be at practice. I didn’t need to be in the weight room. I just had to be at class – down time is truly the enemy of a driven student-athlete if you don’t know how to manage it.
After all my sweat, tears, blood, road trips, laughing until it hurt, powerful moments with teammates and coaches, wins and losses, it was time to move on – that was a hard pill to swallow. But I’m probably the only one who has ever felt that way (said no student-athlete ever).
It’s why as alumni, our stories can be a valuable resource to those outgoing seniors staring that great wide world right in the face and being excited and scared all at the same time.
So, what can you do? Here are a few ways to leverage your influence for current student-athletes and outgoing seniors:
Share your story – whether online through social media or in your group of influence, share your experience. Maybe you transitioned easier than some maybe you didn’t, share that. Talk about what worked for you and what didn’t. Talk about where you struggled most to find fulfilling work. Talk about those jobs you took just to pay the bills. Talk about whether or not your degree has helped you or if you found work outside your field of study.
Go back for you Alumni weekend – My joke has been that I flew half way across the country for a t-shirt and a free pom-pom, but what I’ve learned in recent years is my effort to connect and go back is bigger than what I GET from the experience; it’s about what I can GIVE back by going. Don’t just go back and sit in the stands and leave. Have conversations, connect with the team and/or coach if you can. They won’t fully understand your presence right now, but having alum in the stands means you are a program worth coming back for, not based solely on wins, but based on a shared experience.
Meet with athletes – When possible (and within compliance), meet with current athletes. Ask them questions. Listen. What are their goals outside of sports? How is school? Remember, they are in that same microcosm you were in and though they may have many friends outside of it, nobody will quite understand it like former student-athletes do.
Follow on Social – Just by following your groups and teams on social media you will create a connection with former, current and future student-athletes. You can see how your team is doing, who the new recruits are, what the coaching philosophy is, where the program is now as opposed to how it was when you played and so much more.
I’ve connected and reconnected with so many people through social media groups and individual athletes for my sport and have loved seeing the program and players progress.
Shared Experiences Connect People – Because we have been where they have been, we can be honest about our experience. Our biggest asset to them is the fact that we’ve already been there. We know it takes work, we know no one is going to give us a job we didn’t earn or aren’t qualified for and we know that no matter how connected we are, we still had to work for our careers. The good news is we have our athletic background and experience that mirrors this process one for one. Work hard, learn from your mistakes and keep moving.
We all have lives after sports – and thank goodness we do, but if there is a chance to share truth to those who are just emerging into that reality, let’s do that. It’s a full circle that’s worth replicating again and again.
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball and hopes to pass on her love for the sport to the next generation of amazing athletes and leaders.