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3 Key Action Steps for Young Athletes Transitioning Out of Sports

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Many of the top business people in the world have played competitive sports, giving them an edge that took them to the top.

Read below for 3 action steps that will help you gain momentum as you move forward from sports.

The world of competitive sports, both professional and organized, is one where many people can lose their sense of identity, players and parents alike.

The reality is that less than 2% of youth that play competitive sports will go on to play in the major leagues. With odds like that, it becomes increasingly important that life outside of sport is nurtured.

Now more than ever, we are seeing elite athletes share their personal stories and develop very public profiles, even creating major impact on socio-political issues regarding human rights and education. For example, Team USA, the recent Women’s Soccer FIFA World Cup Champions, used their spotlight to highlight gender parity between women and men’s sports.

In the last 5 years alone, Serena Williams has invested in 34 young start-up companies, and 60% are founded by women and people of colour. Who can forget Colin Paepernick’s peaceful protest in 2016 against police brutality and racism when he took a knee during the American National Anthem. His actions led to a movement of hundreds of athletes joining the crusade over the last three years.

These players have huge followings and major influence on younger players.

So what can young competitive athletes learn from them, and what strengths do they have that reinforce their lives outside of sports?

man wearing half athletic clothes and half a suit preparing to run.

As a mentorship organization, a primary focus for En Point has been working with athletes as they prepare to enter the professional world. After working with The Halifax Mooseheads, internationally recognized academic athletic associations, and younger grade school students, we’ve narrowed it down to three key ingredients that help to make this transition a smooth one.

1) Connections

men at a work event talking

There’s no doubt that young athletes idolize their favourite players, and lean on their coaches and teammates for mentorship and feedback. A great connection or mentor will dive deeper than what’s on the surface. They will take the time to learn your story, and support your journey in a way that is best for you. Think about your network of coaches or teammates, health and condition coaches or even your agents and team managers. Your current network can serve as a great reference point to help you start your post-athletic career.

Sahra MacNeil, Human Resources Manager at BOYNECLARKE LLP, played competitive hockey her whole life, including with team Canada in the Angela Ruggiero Chowder Cup in the Pro-Am League and for St. Mary’s University. She has been working with her mentor for over a year now, and shares just how much the experience has helped her in her career.

“Mentorship is utilizing a relationship to help you overcome roadblocks, whether those be technical, behavioural, or even the mental roadblocks we place on ourselves every day. It can make a world of difference to have a relationship with someone who can help you gain perspective, learn, grow as a professional as well as an individual. It’s about supporting people to help them be their best self.”

- Sahra MacNeil

Austyn Hardie, of Halifax Mooseheads alum, and previous participant in collaborations En Point echos Sahra’s thoughts.

“When I left university after hockey I was really lost, I didn’t know what direction to go. Joining En Point really helped to ease this stress. They gave me the tools, to really understand what I wanted to do, and understand the next steps.”

- Austyn Hardie

Action Step: Make a list of the top 10 most influential people in your life. If possible, make a point to reach out to them in the near future for a conversation.

2) Transfer of Skills

writing on a desk

Having relationships that nurture unique skill sets, and build on existing leadership and communication skills, is paramount in the early stages of the transition from sport to career. Playing competitive sports helps build a number of incredibly valuable skills for the workforce. Resiliency, leadership, communication, and working with a team are just the tip of the iceberg.

All of these soft skills are vital when contributing to a healthy workplace culture. Often employers will look for these skills alone and train new recruits in house. Take a look at the links below to check out some of the most valuable transferable skills from athlete to non-athlete.

Determining your transferable skills is a key area where your mentor can help you be strategic and thorough. All of your experience matters, from part time jobs, to volunteer roles and even projects you’ve completed in the classroom. Sahra shares that her mentor helped her in this particular area,

“She has helped me gain insights into my career, and has time and time again provided me with opportunities to grow in my career, my knowledge, and skill set in the field of HR…the overall support has been astounding.”

- Sahra MacNeil

Action Step: After reviewing the links above for reference, take some time to think back on your experiences in and out of sports. Write down any relevant experience, skills, and strengths you’ve developed over your career in sports, as well as any job or academic related experience.

3) Self-Confidence

Man standing on a rock at sunset

The athletes mentioned above seem to have confidence in spades. The confidence to stand on a particular mountain and become part of a movement takes commitment. This can be terrifying for any young person, especially young athletes who have spent their whole lives in the game, developing one’s identity and confidence only in one specific area.

You may think you lack self-confidence, but when you look back and think about your experiences in sport, you may be surprised at what you’ve gained! Think about all the times you still gave it your all even though you’ve lost games, or battled teams or competitors who were more skilled than you. That is what you will bring with you as a professional into whatever work environment you choose.

Finding out what you are passionate about can take time and experience. Which experiences left you feeling proud, confident and ready to tackle anything that comes your way? Exploring what makes you feel confident can give you clues about what lights you up.

Sahra offers this advice to young athletes getting ready to move forward in their career:

“Really explore what it is that you are passionate about. Having something you are passionate about in your job, whether that be a particular piece of work, your job, the field, or even the company. Having a deeper connection to your role within the organization makes your life that much more enjoyable.”

- Sahra MacNeil

Having a mentor can help point you in the direction of opportunities that develop your self-confidence, expand your comfort zone, and explore where your passions lie.

Action Step: Even if you don’t feel confident taking this next step, don’t forget all of the skills you’ve built along the way! Reach out to a mentor or helpful connection who can help you identify how they translate in the professional world.
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