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The Next Play: How To Navigate A Career Change

Your life as an athlete has been exciting. You’ve cultivated a strong work ethic, determination, grit, and perseverance-- skills that everyone desires and spends years trying to attain. You’ve fought battles, grown as an individual, but more importantly learned to grow as a team, a unit of like-minded people pursuing the same cause: victory. 

There will come a time when you have to hang up your cleats, and preparing for the next stage of your career can be an exciting and challenging transition. You may feel a bit unsettled by your new play call, but you will be able to pursue another passion and live another dream in your career change. I’ll give you some tips for making that change go as smoothly as possible.

New Roster

 Athletics will always be apart of who you are. No one can take that away from you. Even when you are done playing the game, the lessons you learned and the skills you nourished will stay with you when you move into your post-professional phase.

Where do you go from here? In a 2017 study, Linkedin analyzed the top careers that post-NFL players take up. 

  • Small business owner/entrepreneur, 20%

  • Sales, 18%

  • Coaching/Fitness Professional, 9%

  • Finance/Insurance/Banking, 8%

  • Campus and Professional Athletics, 5%

  • Media and Sports Broadcasting, 3%

  • Real Estate, 3%

  • Education, 3%

  • Non-profit, 2%

  • Other, 23%

This is simply an overview of what many post-professional athletes choose as second careers. If any of these options speak to you, wonderful! If not, there are boundless opportunities for you to use your unique skill set and pursue your dream.

There is one thing I’d love to emphasize: nothing is out of reach. Think of Arian Foster, the former running back who is pursuing a degree in physics. Many athletes take up work in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) after their time on the field is over. Another example is Myron Rolle, a former safety who took up a neuroscience residency at Harvard University. These men show us that there are so many routes for professional athletes and that there are no limits to the things you can accomplish.  If the time you devoted to athletics during your college years  prevented you from majoring in a field you always dreamed about, you now have the opportunity to return to the classroom.  Professors love mature students in their classrooms, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level.

Your Play Call

Let me ask you this: what are you passionate about? 

You don’t have to give a monolithic answer. List numerous things you love and spark your interest. Perhaps one of the things you most enjoyed while playing the game was nurturing and growing your community as a team. This skill could translate to working at a non-profit, teaching, presenting, or writing-- all professions that hold community at the center. 

Let’s say that you are interested in learning to be an architect. You saw the design in each play, sought how to change it to make it your own, and you want to apply that same vision to urban sporting facilities and resources. This is an excellent goal. It is one that would require more education to fully express.

How can education fit into your career goals?

Education is a big commitment, both intellectually and financially, therefore, it’s important to plan for it as far in advance as possible. Think about the ways that having more education could impact the career you wish to obtain. Not every career move will require additional education, but if it is an important goal for you, then it is something you should seriously consider. 

Any new career you undertake will cause a financial shift. Evaluate your financial profile: your savings strategy, investments, insurance, debts, anything that contributes to your financial space. Most likely, your new career will offer different financial benefits than your time in professional athletics and planning for that shift will be really important to the health of your accounts.

The Big Win

When weighing the many options for your career change, know that there is no right answer. Finding out what will work for you might take time, but as the saying goes nothing easy is worth obtaining.  If you are really puzzling over a new career, consider investigating some of the aptitude testing services.  If you simply do a Google search for aptitude testing, you will see many, including some that are non-profit research centers.  They will give you batteries of tests to determine what sort of natural aptitudes you have beyond athletics.  It may be a good investment before making a major decision. 

Let your passion be your guide. Take the skills you have accrued in your time in professional athletics and translate them into your new endeavor. You can be methodical about which professions speak to you based on your personality, interests, skills and natural aptitudes. Remember, you have brought so much value to your sport and now it is time to impart that value on another industry, one fortunate enough to have you on their team.