Leading on and off the Field: Making the Transition with the NCAA

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Each year, more than 400,000 student-athletes participate in 23 sports at more than 1,000 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) colleges and universities. Regardless of which sport they play (or how well they perform), when they graduate they all have one thing in common: the need to find a job. And while some aspire to "turn pro," very few will have the opportunity to do so. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are only 16,000 professional athletes in the United States today. Talk about a competitive job market!

With such challenges for student-athletes today, it's no wonder that the NCAA saw the imperative to help these individuals make a move from leading on the field to leading in life. One of the ways they do that is through the NCAA Career in Sports Forum, and to assist in the program development for this powerful learning experience, they hired Lynne Kaplan. The president of an organizational development consulting company, Kaplan worked closely with two NCAA staff members--Curtis Hollomon, director of leadership development, and Christina Wright, assistant director of Student-Athlete Affairs--to develop the forum.

Life after college, with or without sports

Hosted each year by the NCAA, the NCAA Career in Sports Forum (Forum) is a four-day event that brings together several hundred selected student-athletes to learn about careers in sports. Although the chances of employment as a professional athlete are limited, there are many opportunities for careers and part-time work as coaches, officials, and administrators in intercollegiate athletics.

Focused primarily on these careers, the NCAA's Forum asks participants to choose from one of two tracks: coaching or administration. The coaching track, which is open to student-athletes interested in coaching any of the 23 sports the NCAA offers, includes sessions on sports performance, injury prevention, and conditioning, as well as budgeting, compliance, and ethics. The administration track includes similar sessions, all with an eye toward helping student-athletes prepare for a career in sports.

An important component of both tracks is a session called Self-Awareness and Communication. The session helps participants understand their own behavior styles and how they can use those styles to develop more effective and productive relationships--in classes and with their teammates and coaches today, and with co-workers, managers, and clients in the future.

In 2010, Kaplan brought Everything DiSC Workplace into the Forum curriculum. Everything DiSC Workplace is a classroom training program centered on the third-generation Everything DiSC assessment, which creates a richer, more personalized experience for each participant. It includes interactive facilitation with contemporary video and online follow-up, all with the goal of helping individuals understand their personal behavioral style, which is a combination of four behavioral tendencies: Dominance (D), Influence (i), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C).

"As an organization, the NCAA has been using assessment tools such as DiSC for many years," says Wright. "We knew Everything DiSC Workplace could be a valuable tool in helping student-athletes figure out how to transition from college to career. So we made the decision to incorporate it in our NCAA Career in Sports Forum curriculum."

The Forum has three major components--personal development, professional development, and leadership development.

"What the student-athletes learn from Everything DiSC Workplace, about themselves and others, is really important," says Wright. "There are more than 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of them go pro in something other than sports. That is why the Forum focuses on more than just coaching and sports administration. …