High school students can learn from athletes who had big career changes

March 30, 2022

The thrill of the game is temporary, and that’s ok!

Donna de Varona became the youngest and one of the first women sportscasters for a national network. She served five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and was a consultant to the U.S. Senate. But there was a time in Donna’s life when she had a gold medal and two swimming world records, but went an entire summer without electricity because she couldn’t afford it.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average professional football career lasts 3.3 years. Not only that, almost 78 percent of NFL players go broke two years after retirement. In other words, retired athletes are scrambling for a new way to earn money even while they’re young and in top physical condition. 

Athletic careers are exciting, but they’re temporary. “Retirement” sounds like something you do when you’re a grandparent, but for student-athletes, it often comes during their 20s. Most athletes don’t earn enough money playing sports to sustain themselves afterwards. 

Identify your transferable skills.

The Money Smart Athlete blog highlights the importance of skills that serve an athlete well in the workplace. These soft skills are the type of thing employers desperately want to know about a candidate:

Organizational skills, adaptability/flexibility, dedication and perseverance, patience, self-motivation, as well as abilities associated with performing under pressure, meeting challenges/deadlines and setting and attaining goals.

Network, network, network.

Former professional basketball player Alex Opacic helps athletes plan a future after sports. He offers this advice about networking.

The saying “it’s not what you know but who you know,” is often said for a reason. Developing relationships with as many business minded people as possible gives you an advantage in being set up for a career after sports.

Build a portfolio that shows your life in and out of sports.

A resume isn’t enough. A list of game stats and class grades isn’t enough. You need to demonstrate what makes you you. A portfolio does just that, and it grows with you long after you hang up the uniform for good.

When you transition from sports to another career, you’ll have this at your fingertips. It’ll open doors of opportunity like you can’t even believe! 

You need to ask yourself some questions.

Laura Sheehan is a lawyer-turned-career coach. She gave a thought-provoking TEDx Talk about making a huge career change. Like an athlete, she had invested years of focus, hard work, training, and money into something that would come to an abrupt end. 

But Laura’s is an uplifting story, and it’s the exact message student-athletes need to hear. What do you think about planning for life after sports?