The Athlete’s Guide to Changing Careers After Retirement

Becoming a professional athlete is a dream for many young boys and girls. The reality, however, is that fewer than 1% of young adults get there. Even if you are fortunate to play sports professionally, your career might be short-lived due to team selections and injuries. When you close the page on your sports career, whether by personal choice or not, you will be left to map out your next steps.

The transition to your next professional phase may be one of the biggest challenges you have to face. If you have spent much of your life honing a sports craft, you might feel underqualified for a corporate job. While your fellow job candidates were working internships and entry-level professional jobs, you were on the court, at the gym, or on the practice field. How can you position your sports track record as an advantage?

Here is a bit of good news: most companies are looking for the core qualities of an athlete in job candidates, they just may not be thinking about it in those exact terms. At the end of the day, every employer wants dedicated, motivated, and mentally strong professionals on his team. So, your next success is just a matter of finding the right-fit opening and demonstrating how your track record in sports will give the company an undeniable edge.

Here are eight ways in which your sports career can set you apart from the rest of the candidates.

1. You have demonstrated your dedication to daily practice.

Few projects or jobs demonstrate discipline and work ethic the way a career in sports does. Raw talent is helpful, but it won’t take you far enough. You showed up at practice when you were tired, sick, distracted, and discouraged. That commitment and grit are worth a lot. In the words of Alistair Cooke, a professional is a man who can do his best at a time when he doesn’t particularly feel like it.

2. You have resilience.

Your sports career has taught you to understand that growth comes from overcoming difficulty. The path is not pretty, and you have trained long enough to accept that. Your resilience and ability to pick yourself up and try again will serve you well – no matter what you choose to do next. It will also be a valuable asset to your future employer.

3. You have honed your ability to make decisions.

Unlike many others who think they can avoid mistakes by simply not making a decision, you are not fooled. You have practiced making decisions for yourself and for your team during your entire sports career. You have taken many risks. Some of them have paid off, some have not. You have learned from it all. Today, yours is an uncanny ability to distill a situation down to its core components, identify risks, make a decision, and move.

4. You are focused on achievement.

It may have come in the form of records, game wins, or personal bests – but achievement has always meant chasing continuous improvement. Corporations want independent thinkers who are dedicated to making themselves – and their companies – better with every pass. You may need technical knowledge to maximize this point, but having continuous improvement as a core value makes you hard to replace.

5. You have excelled at time and energy management.

Many college-level athletes have to balance sports practice, competitions, travel, and study. Having so many demands on your time, you have mastered your personal effectiveness and productivity. Twenty-four hours is a great equalizer, and you managed to do a lot with every block of time you had. This will serve you well in the corporate world.

6. You understand the importance of feedback.

Many professionals with a traditional career track are apprehensive of performance reviews. They think of the feedback conversation as a necessary evil, a pass/fail exercise to get them the raise or the bonus they are hoping for.

Your view of feedback is completely different. You understand that you would not have achieved this much if your coaches and teachers had not pointed out that you could do things better. You appreciate and accept feedback, even when it is hard to hear. This level of openness is truly unique in the workplace, and is deeply appreciated.

7. You have lived teamwork on a whole other level.

For many young professionals, teamwork experience means a few group projects in college. Your track record goes beyond that. You have lived through the phases of team formation, conflict, disagreement, friction, exhaustion, and failure. You have also experienced the elation of a team working as one, when you can sense where your teammates are without looking. Finding teams like that in the workplace is extremely difficult, which is why employers want to hire individuals who can bring that spirit with them to elevate and inspire the rest.

8. Your mental game is strong.

In your sports career, you have experienced your share of stress. Instead of running away from it, you have learned to harness its gifts. You have the ability to put your focus on what you want – the final outcome, the goal, the finish line, not on the pain or difficulty of the process. You are in control of your mental state.

Imagine what someone like you can do during a tense bout of negotiations, in an interaction with an irate customer, or when dealing with a run-of-the-mill office emergency like a printer running out of ink. You are not easily ruffled, and employers want people like you to model and inspire calm in stressful situations. I have had the pleasure of working with a former college athlete who could take down the stress level in the room by simply walking in. That is a superpower.

As you can see, by the virtue of your sports past you are bringing valuable experiences, mindsets, and attitudes to the interview table. The biggest challenge may be in your own mind. Many college and professional athletes struggle with redefining themselves after their sports career runs out. I really like Bryttany Curran’s view of that. When asked whether she was a swimmer, her response was “I am a person who swims. I’m a person of faith. I’m a person who plays the violin. I’m a person who loves music. I’m a person made up of many things.” Allow yourself to be a person made up of many things.

In closing, prepare for the interview just as you would for a game, a performance, or a race. Think about examples of situations that highlight how your sports skills will translate into the corporate world. Some employers may be concerned about your technical background – be ready to dispel their fears in a non-judgmental and non-defensive way. Above all, remember that your life-long practice has prepared you well for whatever comes next. You are ready. You’ve got this.

Natalia Autenrieth is a freelance writer for TopResume.

TopResume is a Talent Inc. company, the personal branding destination for all career-driven professionals. Through our extensive network of professional writers, we offer career advice and analyze and write more resumes and LinkedIn profiles than any other service in the world. Ready to get started? Request a free resume critique today.

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