Life After College: How Student Athletes can Prepare for Post-Graduate Professional Careers

Finding the right career path can be challenging.

Most students are told to follow their passions, but college athletes tend to balance their athletic goals with their academic goals. Fewer than 2% of college athletes will play professionally after graduating college, and for those that do a long career is far from guaranteed. The average NFL career lasts just 3.5 years, the average NBA career just 4.8 years, and the average MLB career just 5.6 years. Even for the top college athletes, a fallback career plan is important, and there are many opportunities for athletes who are passionate about their sport to stay involved in the game after their playing career is over.

Paul Hvozdovic is a former college baseball player who is now the career advisor for student athletes at Elon University. “I thought I was going to play baseball for the rest of my life” said Hvozdovic. “It’s easy for someone to say you should stop playing and go into the professional world but if you did not try to at least pursue that opportunity you would think about it for the rest of your life.”

For athletes that do wish to play professionally and believe they have a shot at doing so, the first step would be to enter a pre-draft process. This process varies depending on the sport, but usually involves private workout sessions with teams, a combine where they are measured against their peers, interviews with professional teams, and possibly hiring an agent to help them through the process. Some sports allow players to first enter a minor league system to gain exposure before being called up to a team at the professional level.

The pre-draft process is different for each sport, and some sports offer more professional options to aspiring pro athletes than others do. “With basketball there is a little bit more of a likelihood of going overseas than compared to football, and with soccer going overseas is a bit more normalized as well” said Hvozdovic. “In a perfect situation athletes are going to try their best, do whatever they can to go to the combines, lift, eat, and sleep.”

Regardless of an athlete’s career goals are, there are steps all athletes can take to ensue they are prepared for success after graduation. These steps include a strong resume, strong interview skills, and realizing that there are a number of athletically transferable skills that are translatable to most career fields.

“As athletes get closer to junior and senior year, we identify the skills they have as a student athlete that help them be successful in an employer side of things” said Hvozdovic. These skills include being coachable, being resilient, communication, time management, handling adversity, handling failure, multitasking, and being able to work as part of a team.

“Every employer in the world wants someone who can work in a team” Hvozdovic said.

Employers prioritize many skills that are well suited toward athletes, including teamwork, communication, and time management

Kelley Gunn, a former Division III baseball pitcher, now attends PA school and is studying to become a Physician’s Assistant. He recommends that collegiate athletes are realistic about their chances of playing professionally, and that sports can be secondary to what you plan on doing for the rest of your life. “I knew I wanted to be Physician’s Assistant, but there were a lot of life lessons I learned through playing college athletics, whether that is how to deal with multiple personalities on a team, how to resolve conflicts, how to work together, and how to communicate on a high level” said Gunn.

Gunn now uses those lessons in his graduate program, and says that his experiences as a baseball player have taught him how communicate at a high level, make adjustments on the fly, and keep his emotions in check. These skills serve him as applies them to a different setting in graduate school. “I’ve been better than my peers since I’ve left baseball” said Gunn. “Instead of being in the moment too much and going to the first thing that crosses my mind when I enter a situation, I have the mental fortitude to step back and figure out what the problem is and how I can figure out a solution.”

Tyler Hargrave, another former Division III baseball player, saw his playing career come to an end after his sophomore year due to a herniated disc injury in his back. After realizing he needed to step away from baseball, he was able to refocus his energy and adjust to feeling like “a typical college kid who comes in and has all this time in the world.” Now a high school history teacher, he says playing baseball helped hold him accountable. Now he hopes to get back involved with the sport and someday get into coaching baseball.

“After two years of not playing I felt this urge to get back involved with baseball, whereas my teammates who played all four years- they didn’t want to see a baseball for at least a couple of years” said Hargrave. “I guess I kind of got ahead of that being away from baseball lull.

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