Former Lions Coach Weighs in on the Professional Future of Former Student Athletes

According to the NCAA, only 1.5 percent of collegiate football players will go pro. A higher percentage of baseball players will advance to the pro leagues (9.1 percent), but overall the trend is the same: college and high school are the end of most sports careers. So is all that time and effort for nothing?

Absolutely not. Through years of disciplined training and teamwork, athletes build the qualities that most employers prize in new hires. The trick comes in recognizing these qualities, knowing how to communicate them, and finding the right employers. This is a journey that a Colorado-based software company is trying to accomodate. InXAthlete is an online career platform that aims to connect the brightest minds from the world of sports with the movers and shakers of the business world.

I had a chance to sit down with former Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions coach Daron Roberts to get his view on former athletes, their futures, and to see how InXAthlete is helping connect them to employers.

Question: It’s every athlete’s dream to play their sport professionally. But for most, the end of the line often comes sooner than they’d hope. And this is the struggle that InXAthlete is trying to fend off. In your experience with the student athletes you’ve worked with, what are some of the characteristics that maybe fly under the radar for an employer that an athlete might possess?

Roberts: First and foremost, athletes tend to have a better grasp on discipline. They have to adhere to a very strict schedule, being up early and maintaining a strict diet to be at their peak performance. Also, naturally, athletes tend to be great team players. They work well with others and are used to interacting daily with people of different ethnicities, religions, and viewpoints. That’s the crux of being a part of a team sport: in order to be successful, you have to have a good relationship with your teammates. Athletes are also very coachable — they’ve had someone there guiding them for some, if not all, of their experience. An athlete knows how to take criticism and turn it into something positive. Lastly, an athlete is competitive. In the end, they want to be on the top of the list, so they strive to excel both on and off the court.

Question: So, it would seem that a student athlete would have an outlook of tenacity for their lives, right?

Roberts: Yeah, absolutely. Athletes, no matter what sport, are having to compete at their highest possible level, and I believe all of the aforementioned characteristics play into that tenacity that an athlete has.

Question: Everyone has something that they are good at and want to pursue as a job in the professional world. Do you think there are any jobs that best fit a student athlete?

Roberts: Good question. I’m not sure if there’s any research out there that proves one way or the other on that point, but there is a notion that athletes convert well into sales. It’s a competitive environment, and you are forced to perform. But really, it can be any outward-facing job. Any job that relies heavily on interacting with others is probably a job that an athlete would excel at.

Question: Being a student athlete is incredibly difficult because you have to balance both your school and your athletic obligations. This is easier for some than others. Would you say that it is hard for an academically-underperforming athlete to get a job of their choice?

Roberts: It could be, but I hope that employers will recognize the fact that these former student athletes have been stretched to the max of their time limit. Really, they are juggling two full-time jobs. It would only be fair to take that factor into consideration and still give the athlete a chance to perform.

Question: What would you say to a student athlete who perhaps didn’t make the cut or had a career-ending injury and feels like they’ve come to the end of their professional road?

Roberts: First I will say, I know that any kind of career-ending factor is tough on the ego. As stated before, athletes are inherently very competitive, and it can be hard to face that reality that you aren’t going to be performing at a level of competition that you’ve worked so hard to get to. But then to that I’ll say that the next stage of a former athlete’s life has so many options. The future is limitless. They just need to convert that dedication, time, and personal ferocity for their respective sport into starting a career with purpose. It’s also important to experiment in different professions and to not be scared of the road ahead. Keep your options open. Use the time away from your sport to really explore: look for shadowing opportunities, attend informational sessions, and join websites like InXAthlete to put your face out there.

If you’re a student athlete that has finished your athletic career, know that there is a place for you, your passions, and your skills in the professional world. If you’re an employer looking for a bright, dedicated, and hardworking new hire, look no further than a former student athlete. InXAthlete is there to help bring together the disconnect between the two.