a basketball player sitting in the bleachers

Career Development and Student-Athletes

 Career Exploration and Student Athletes

It has been a few years since I coached college football.  There are lots of things that I miss about it like the first day of fully padded practice, late nights breaking down film,  scrimmages and of course, game day.  I also miss my players and not just the coaching part.  Developing relationships with players creates a bond that is unique to those in student affairs administration.  That’s right, I said it, coaches are student affairs administrators; especially at the small, NAIA institutions I used to work at.  One thing that I always tried to work with my players on was career development.  Many athletes   in the NAIA and Division III pay for the education through financial aid and   family contributions.  Athletic scholarships (if any) cover a   fraction of the tuition, room, board and miscellaneous expenses   associated with getting a college degree.  Most would graduate with significant student debt, making the question: what do you want to do when   you graduate an increasingly important one.

The answer to this question is not easy for   student-athletes, even those who compete at levels that do not typically lead to professional careers.  Across levels, the literature is pretty clear that student-athletes identify strongly as athletes first, and students second (Houle, Brewer, & Kluck, 2010). Moreover, the stresses associated   with balancing their athletic schedule with academic commitments leads to the   athlete choosing the former in most cases (Brewer, Raalte, & Linder, 1993).  These choices, while often a positive factor in retaining   student-athletes, can have harmful effects upon the athletes psyche as development in other areas/identities is often stagnated (Watt & Moore,   2001).   Two areas that are often underdeveloped are long-term goal   setting and career planning (Sandstedt, Cox, Martens, Ward, Webber, & Ivey, 2004; Eiche, Sedlacek, & Adams-Gaston, 1997). When addressing career planning with students   there are two important terms to consider: vocational identity and career   maturity.  Vocational identity refers to strong feelings or identities associated   with a particular field.  Student-athletes often score high on vocational identity surveys largely due to the fact that athletes often feel that they will either play professionally after college or be involved in a   closely aligned athletic profession (i.e. coaching or physical training).  Career maturity refers to factors that are broader in nature and are nested in the realistic appraisal of one’s competencies and abilities in a field (Martens & Cox, 2000).

Martens and Lee (1998) provide a model for   involvement that is both sensible and beneficial to the student-athlete if implemented. Their three step model involves cooperation with the (1) athletic department, (2) identification of student-athlete goals, and (3) implementation of the program (Martens & Lee, 1998).  The first step  is the most crucial since the athletic department and specific team control much of the athlete’s schedule.  Without a push from the athletic department, administrators may find it difficult to get student-athletes to   engage in career exploration.  The second step involves breaking down   logistical barriers, promoting independence, exploring options and interests, and using the student-athlete’s strong identity as an asset to the job search   process (Martens & Lee, 1998). This last point (using the student’s   identity) can come in useful in creating “back-up” plans for those who have aspirations of playing professional sports.    The final step discusses the implementation of a career development   program. Martens and Lee (1998) suggest incorporating career development into the athlete’s schedule.  Realistically, incorporation into the schedule or some form of formal endorsement by either the team or the athletic department is essential in creating an effective career program for student- athletes.

The need for career exploration early and often in a student’s academic life is needed if we want to ensure a smooth transition into the workforce; especially during these trying times.  Reports indicate that possessing work-related experiences and skills are a chief determinant in employing students out of college (CERI, 2007).  These skills and experiences come primarily from internships and co-op placements.  Such placements are difficult to obtain during the academic year due to team commitments and depending on the program’s requirements.  Such opportunities can also be difficult in the summer if the student-athlete is catching up on coursework or in the case of some Division II, III and NAIA athletes may be working jobs to help cover their school expenses.  This can be problematic as many internships and coops are unpaid (the legislative battles currently surrounding unpaid internships is a whole other story).

So what is the solution?  Particularly for those who work at institutions that may not have services dedicated specifically to student-athletes or at institutions that may have limited campus services period?  The overly- simplistic answer is: anything.  Any conscious effort to develop an athlete’s skill set and allow them to further explore their aspirations is a good step.   This can be done through orientation programs, specific sessions with campus administrators (i.e. having career services administer surveys such as the Student Athlete Career Services Inventory (SACSI),  using resources from the NCAA Life Skills program or a formalized effort from the athletic department itself.

Although student-athletes tend to struggle with long-term planning outside of their sport, they have a plethora of skills and abilities that make them marketable in the post-graduation world.  Such skills include teamwork, leadership, ability to cope with pressure, commitment and work ethicIt should be the goal of coach/administrators to ensure that student-athletes can enter the marketplace with these skills in addition to experience and a better sense of what career path they wish to take.


Dr. Paul Artale is a motivational speaker who tells the story of how he overcame physical disability to play college football. With years of experiences as a college coach and administrator, Dr. Artale helps student athletes find superstardom after their playing days are over. For more information visit http://www.paulartale.com

#athlete #studentathlete #career #jobs #success #ncaa


Brewer, B. W., Raalte, J. L. V., & Linder, D. (1993). Athletic identity: Hercules’ muscles or achilles heel? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 24: 237-254.

Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac (2005-06). College enrollment by racial and ethnic group, selected years.

Eiche, K., Sedlacek, W., & Adams-Gaston, J. (1997). An exploration of leadership characteristic in university athletes. University of Maryland at College Park. Research Report # 6-97. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from: http://williamsedlacek.info/publications/articles/exploration697.html

Houle, J.L., Brewer, B.W., & Kluck, A.S. (2010).  Developmental trends in athletic identity: A two-part retrospective study.  Journal of Sport Behavior, (33)2, 146-159.

Martens, M.P., & Cox, R.H. (2000). Career development in college varsity athletes.  Journal of College Student Development, (41)2, 172-180.

Martens, M.P., & Lee, F.K. (1998). Promoting life-career development in the student Athlete: How can career centers help? Journal of Career Development,(25)2. 123-134.

Sandstedt, S.D., Cox, R.H., Martens, M.P., Ward, D.G., Webber, S.N., & Ivey S. (2004).  Development of the student-athlete career situation inventory (SACSI).  Journal of Career Development, (31)2, 79-93.

Watt, S.K., & Moore, J.L. (2001).  Who are student athletes?  In M.F. Howard-Hamilton & S.K. Watt (Eds.), New direction for student services: Rethinking for college athletes. (7-18)  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

a football player holding the football

Preparing High School Athletes to Play at the Next Level

There’s nothing better than working with student-athletes.  As a high school coach I vowed to get as many of my players to the next level as possible since involvement in a college program is one of the best experiences possible.  I wanted to prepare them on as many levels as I could.   When I transitioned into the college ranks I became frustrated when we received players who had no idea what college and college football demanded.  As someone with an education background there were certain concepts I was aware of and tried to incorporate into my practice that would make my students better people, not just better football players.

This article will explain some fundamental tips that will help us prepare our athletes for collegiate success- both on and off the field.


Prepare Players to Practice. There’s nothing worse than catching up with a college coach and hearing that one (or more) of your players can’t handle the tempo and commitment of college sports.  Trying to mirror the format and tempo of college practices and commitments is a crucial step in increasing the odds of success at the next level.   Emphasizing tempo and discipline are the key elements here.

Accountability is Fundamental.  Showing up to practice on time and following through with requirements is a habit that needs to be taught from day one.  This seems like a no brainer but I was always amazed (and annoyed) by players who looked shocked when we would chew them out for being late to practice, morning runs, or training sessions.   Time is limited (and audited) at the college level so every minute with coaches is precious.  Better that time is spent learning something instead of bickering over punctuality.

Focus on Fundamentals.  It is temping to go to the coaching clinic and learn the latest and greatest techniques from college X.  Some of these techniques and plans definitely enhance your high school program.  That being said, make sure players have their fundamentals down pat first and foremost.  Players who show up to college camps/tryouts with poor fundamentals are at a disadvantage.  Colleges take lots of players based on raw talent or potential but at the end of the day men/women with a solid fundamental base progress faster and further than those who do not.

This point is also important for key players who may be successful in high school because they are very large, fast, aggressive etc.  There are some things you can get away with at the high school level that you cannot get away with in college.  Those who often lacked true competition in high school will finally meet their match in college.  The player with fundamental skills and technique will ultimately win out.

Be current.  This may seem to contradict the last point but what I am talking about here is making sure that the terminology and basic techniques are consistent with what is being taught at the next level.  I once heard of a high school football coach who never used proper play calling techniques (he used characters from the Simpsons, so a play would be “Lisa fly on 2”) and this led to his players having to learn another language when they got to the next level.  There were certain techniques that were almost universally taught at the college level and I always loved the high school coaches who taught those same principles.  Certain techniques and ideas become outdated so we have to make sure our players are up to speed.

Weights are our friends.  Nothing new here.  We know that athletes at the next level are bigger, faster, and stronger.  As a high school football coach I always tried not to focus solely on how much a player could bench or how fast their 40 time was.  These things were important but what I was really trying to do was create a sense of routine and discipline regarding off-season training.  Not every college program has mandatory workouts in the summer or at different parts of the year.  The players who are disciplined enough to stick to a routine are the ones who come to training camp having made the most significant gains and turning the most heads.


A succesful collegiate career requires victory off the field as well.  Here are some things we can do as coaches to make sure our players are mentally prepared for college.   These suggestions are based on the notion that as coaches we are mentors and educators and as such, can have important conversations or implement useful programs for the betterment of our teams and players.

Finding a Fit.  Whether your student-athlete is being courted by Division 1 powerhouses or is trying to walk on at a small college, ensuring players find a place that is the right fit for them is extremely important.   Here are some things to consider when it comes to fit.

Coaching Staff.  Do the coaches have a philosophy/style that will mesh well with your player?  Sometimes during the hustle and bustle of the recruitment process we fail to see if personalities fit.  This can be tough at times since both sides are presenting their best selves.  It is also easy for a player to get caught up in the chance to play at State U that they do not always think about the fit between player and institution.  Simple tasks such as urging your players to watch team practices when possible will help answer these questions.  As we become more seasoned in our coaching careers, we also form relationships with college coaches and get a sense of what their styles are.  Some of our players need aggressive in your face mentorship and others need a more passive, calm presence.

Living Arrangements.  Here is another factor that often gets overlooked.  Some teams automatically house their athletes in a particular residence hall.  Other programs (usually smaller schools) integrate their players into the residential facilities with other students and some programs even allow players to live off campus.  Each arrangement has its strengths and weaknesses and as coaches we should help our players understand those pluses and minuses.  Living in the “soccer dorm” is much different than having a roommate who plays another sport or who is not an athlete altogether.  In some cases, our students will have a choice on whether they want to live with an athlete or not and will need guidance with that decision as well.

Non-athlete options.  Playing in college is not for everyone.  There are only so many spots, the competition is fierce at all levels, and sometimes injuries happen.   Some programs embrace this and offer opportunities for players to still be a part of the program as equipment managers, film editors, operations crew, and even coaches.

Money.  College students today graduate with heavy debt and unless your student-athlete is on a full scholarship or has family backing, money becomes an important issue very quickly.  Managing finances in college is tough for the best of students but being involved in athletics can often mean students have less hours that they are available to work jobs to pay for college which in turn can increase reliance on loans or credit cards.  I am not asking that you become their brokers but incorporating some basic financial programming at some point into your program can only benefit your athletes.  Besides, athletes are more likely to listen to their coach (or someone their coach endorses) than a guest speaker at college orientation.

Some other areas we can help our student athletes succeed in college are:

Career Development.  No, an 18 year old probably won’t know what they want to do with their life BUT they should start thinking about it.  Studies show that college athletes have a whole slew of leadership and problem-solving skills to offer the working world.  Those same studies also show that athletes tend to have less certainty about career choices outside of athletics.  Having a bachelors degree is not enough for young graduates as internships and coop placements are becoming crucial to landing that first job after college.  Athletes are often at a disadvantage due to their time commitments so it is imperative that we at least get them thinking about some of these options.  To paraphrase that NCAA commercial, they will all go pro at something other than sports in their lives!

Community Outside of Sports.  Sports are great but holistic development means that players need to belong to something that is not team related.  There are three reasons for this.  First, in the unfortunate scenario that a player is cut, quits, is injured, or decides to leave the team having a community to fall back on outside of athletics could mean the difference between persisting through college and dropping out.   Second, being a part of multiple communities contributes to the holistic development of the individual and gives student-athletes a break from their athletic part of their identity.  Third, college in general is a time where young adults are forming and exploring their identity.  Outside communities whether they be cultural, interest based, etc help facilitate growth and self-discovery.

Academic Strategies.  Regardless of motives if players don’t make grades then they don’t play.  Each student has different academic abilities, interests, and challenges.  As our students prepare to go to college we may want to point them in the right direction academically.  For some this may mean advocating for accommodations or in some cases getting tested for learning disabilities.   It may mean knowing which learning environments are suited best for the student-athlete.  This point definitely interrelates with helping our athletes find the right fit.  Different programs have different academic resources, course availabilities, and academic cultures related to student-athletes.  Academic excellence should be something that is reinforced in the high school program but as the closer we get to college then the more specific the interventions and advice needs to be.


As coaches we are preparing our players for life.  This means preparing them to play and succeed at the highest level possible.   Athletic success in college means more than winning championships and individual awards.  It means a deeper understanding of who our athletes are as people and future leaders.  As high school coaches we can help put them on that path and must work hard to ensure that our student-athletes are well prepared in all realms so that they can maximize their success on when they arrive at college.


Dr. Paul Artale is a motivational, speaker, author, and coach who helps people and organizations break through challenges and achieve to performance.  Despite being born with what some would call a disability, Paul achieved his dream of playing defensive line at the University of Toronto.

For more information visit http://www.paulartale.com

#motivation #motivationalspeaker #adversity #disability #NCAA #CIS #OUA #inspiration #naia