BY GREG SCHINDLER: Transitioning into a new career is difficult for everyone, but athletes could arguably have the most difficult of transitions, going from their athletic careers into the professional world. Athletes are known for completely immersing themselves in their sport; it is no longer a sport that they just play, but rather it becomes who they are. When it comes time to move into the next part of their lives and join the “working” world, athletes often have difficulty dealing with the realization that their lifelong devotion and purpose has changed. They are no longer a part of a sports team chasing championships, but instead part of a new team, one that is oftentimes completely new and different than anything they have ever experienced in their life. As athletes begin their post-athletic transition they must realize that so much of what made them great, valuable, and important in their athletic careers translates directly to most, if not all, types of careers. The leadership and culture prevalent in the most successful sports franchises are the same traits that make up the best businesses and organizations. To have a successful post-sports transition, individuals must have a plan, rely on their leadership traits, commit to continuous learning, and grow their professional network.
Successful leadership is not easy. They must have a plan, purpose, and structure in place that is in full alignment with their beliefs, values, and endeavors. The first thing that athletes need to do prior to their transition is to create a plan that will springboard them into their new life. Their plan does not have to feature a specific job or role, but rather a focus area that can serve as the vision for their post-transition career. This big picture vision can then shape the course for the former athlete’s post career success. Just like an athlete would never go into a new season without a plan, purpose, or the structure to facilitate success, neither should an individual during their transition into a new career.
No matter the vision and subsequent culture and career of their choosing, there continues to be one characteristic that breeds success in all industries AND athletics: leadership. Leaders can often find a way to thrive in all environments and cultures. Individuals may already have most of the following leadership characteristics or they may need to obtain a few of them to aid in their transition, but regardless of their current leadership repertoire these traits will aid tremendously in their ability to successfully transition into the next phase of their career.
Great discipline is the backbone of leaders. Leaders display discipline daily to stay on track, accomplish tasks, and ultimately achieve goals. Discipline is the force that pushes you through on the days that you want to go home early, the days you want to just do enough to get by, discipline gives you a swift kick in the rear and forces you to push through until the job is done. All leaders have discipline and it is a key factor in their ability to succeed post-transition, as it will expedite any learning curve.
Just as post-transition athletes once were accountable to a team and it’s mission, they are now accountable to a new team and an organization’s mission. They understand that every individual plays an integral role in the success of the team and that success begins with everyone displaying accountability. Accountability drives production, trust, and results. Being accountable to your work, your word, and your organization will be one of the quickest ways to achieve success in your new endeavor, while also forging strong, principled relationships with your coworkers and superiors.
Leaders are successful in their careers for many reasons, none more important than their passion for their work. Like discipline, passion is a driving force behind an individual’s ability to continuously produce results. Athletes rarely find it hard to display passion in their sports, however they may find it difficult to parlay that passion into a new career or job post-transition. Regardless of the type of transition the athlete embarks on, they must find a way to cultivate the passion within them. Passion, coupled with discipline, will push them through the assured tough times and sustain their drive towards great accomplishments.
What is a leader without their word? Integrity is instrumental in a leader’s ability to promote trust and build relationships. Integrity and trust take years to build but only a few seconds to destroy. No matter what the next challenge is athletes must maintain integrity to gain the trust and respect from their new team. Gaining the trust and respect from your peers is paramount for career growth and achievement. Teammates that are not trusted and cannot be counted on are often times eliminated.
While new journeys may be filled with the unknown and in turn a great deal of stress, one must embody the same level of confidence that translated to success on the athletic field in the office building as well. Nothing is more contagious than confidence. Confidence will not only do wonders throughout the transition for the athlete personally, it will also radiate throughout the new organization or team. Regardless of circumstance, leaders must remain confident in their ability to tackle all problems head on.
Having a plan in place and honing one’s leadership skills will not be enough to succeed post-transition. One must also devote themselves to continuous learning and the creation of a professional network. Most transition into a brand-new culture that they’ve never been a part of before. By researching, reading, and learning about their new atmosphere they can dramatically increase their level of understanding and ability to make a successful transition. One efficient way to incorporate learning into daily routines is by listening to podcasts. Listening to a podcast on your ride to work is a great way to conveniently learn thru a medium that does not take away from time spent doing other tasks.
It is also very important to begin to create a professional network of peers, mentors, and teachers that one can turn to throughout their transition. Find a mentor who has valuable experiences and education in the field of your vision and approach them about possible mentoring opportunities. Do not be afraid to approach individuals, most leaders want to be great mentors, just the same as younger players craved the guidance of older players on the athletic field. Save yourself the regret and reach out. As someone begins their new career they must make it a point to network amongst their peers and leaders at work to get a feel for the culture, aid in learning, and make themselves more comfortable in their new environment. Growing a professional network and devoting time to networking are two easy ways to transition into a new culture.
Lastly, it is important to have a strong support system. Transitions are not always easy and there will be bumps in the road. It is extremely important to have a strong support system that one can count on to carry them through the ups and downs and keep them focused on their greater vision. Develop a plan, focus on leadership skills, commit to continuous learning and professional network growth and when in doubt, resort to the same skills and traits that made you a successful athlete. Reflect on those moments and allow those experiences to help enhance and expand your transitional success.
Gregory J. Schindler II completed his Bachelor of Science in Health Services Administration from Ohio University and will complete his Master of Health Administration this December. He is currently a leader in the health care industry and resides in Greenville, SC. Gregory has completed multiple leadership programs and has a passion for leadership development, personal growth, and empowering individuals to reach their full potential.