If you are among the millions of viewers who tuned in to watch the Olympics every two or four years, then you have witnessed the undeniable energy, strength, and dedication exhibited by each and every athlete. Becoming an Olympian is one of the most physically challenging pursuits in all of sports, regardless of your personal discipline.
You might also notice that world-class athletics are often a pursuit of the young. The simple truth is that sports at this level are physically demanding, and our bodies can only take so much. Joints wear down, injuries happen, and none of us are invincible, no matter how strong and fit we may be.
Having hung up my spikes after 10 years as a professional athlete, I’m excited about what the future holds for the sport of track and field. As a person with first-hand knowledge of the steep learning curve required to achieve success on the international stage, I want to lend a hand to help prepare others for the journey that lies ahead.
Here are a few suggestions for the next generation of professional track and field athletes:
1. Make education a priority
Turning pro is a huge accomplishment, one deserving of all the recognition you have received. As you learn to navigate being in the public eye, it’s important to be careful not to get too caught up in the fanfare of becoming a professional athlete and neglect the pursuit of higher education.
As professional athletes, education is especially important because our careers come to an end a lot earlier than most traditional career paths. It is not uncommon for world-class athletes to find themselves at the end of their athletic career by age 30. Because we spent so much of our lives training and dedicating our energy to our sport, we typically don’t follow the path of other young adults, with internships and part-time jobs. Without an education to fall back on, many athletes find themselves with limited options once they are done competing.
That does not mean that an education is out of your reach, however. One thing athletes do have in common is discipline, so you are likely already used to finding time to work in studying and homework alongside your training. Allyson Felix is a great example of this. She continued her collegiate pursuits while simultaneously becoming the most decorated woman in the sport of track and field.
The cost of attending college can range between $9,000 and $32,000 per year. Often,
your agent will negotiate college expenses with your sponsor and have some (if not all) of your costs covered. However, if you have already signed and didn’t include the cost of education in your contract, it’s possible that your school has a lifetime scholarship which allows pro athletes to go back to school to finish their degree. The key is to start asking questions of the professionals in your support system to find out what options might be available for you to attend college during or after your competition days.
2. Create a clear structure
As I mentioned, discipline is a key characteristic of competitive athletes. Discipline will be your best friend once your competition days are over as well. Don’t wait for your coach to track you down and make sure you never miss a day of practice. It’s up to you and only you to ensure that you are where you need to be and that you are meeting your goals.
If you still have education ahead of you, enrolling in courses is the best way to recreate that structure that helped you reach your athletic goals.
And no matter what, always prioritize sleep.
3. Think of yourself as a business
Throughout your competitive athletic career, it’s important to start viewing yourself as the CEO of “Insert Your Name Here” enterprise. This means being responsible for everything from being at your best to compete to getting enough rest to taking part in interviews.
As a business owner of your own brand, it’s imperative that you stay up-to-date with the current events of your field. Consider being active on social media, or hiring someone to do this for you. An online presence can help you secure sponsorships.
Finally, read everything you can that is related to the business of you, from contracts emails to news articles. As with most things, the devil is in the details, so be sure to thoroughly read everything yourself, even if you do have professionals to review the documents as well.
4. Get the right team
As CEO, you are also responsible for surrounding yourself with people who give you the best chance to succeed. This means you may look to hire a Strength Coach, Nutritionist, Agent, PR Manager, Physiotherapist, Social Media Manager, the list can go on and on.
And while adding all of these individuals to your team may seem like a high priority on the surface, when you begin adding up the costs, it’s easy to minimize their value because you’ve been used to getting easy access to those resources for years. As a cost-cutting measure, you may try handling some of these things yourself.
You could probably handle some tasks in the short-term, but you’re more prone to burn out by trying to manage everything on your own. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with investing in yourself, especially if it gets you closer to goals. It’s important to find a balance that works for you.
Family often wants to help, and though they may mean well, you must determine if they are truly qualified to perform the required tasks. Everyone is not equipped to help you and unfortunately, some people close to you may only be out to personally benefit from your success.
It’s always up to you to decide if you want to bring someone onto your team or not. Consider each addition carefully and make sure what they have to offer is of real value to who you are as an athlete and a person.
5. Take advantage of the opportunity to see the world
Maybe you’ve traveled outside of the country once or twice in your life, but what you’ve just signed up for is completely different than anything you’ve ever experienced. As a newly-minted professional athlete, you can expect to spend months on end in foreign countries with cultural norms much different than what you’re used to experiencing.
You will experience unusual foods, unique smells, and different hours of operation in many of the places you visit. It’s not uncommon to find yourself hungry at midnight, only to realize that the entire city is asleep when your internal clock is wide awake — and hungry, thanks to jet lag. Sometimes, you’ll be lucky and will get to see some of the places you’ll visit. And sometimes, the only places you’ll visit are the airport, hotel, and track.
But don’t be discouraged by the challenges because you will find the good far outweighs the bad.
There are many people who never get to travel the world, and you will get to not only travel, but travel to get to do the one thing you love to do the most. Think of it as the privilege of a real live social studies class — just a lot more exciting.
6. Create a game plan for your finances
It’s likely that the first professional contract you sign will be worth more money than you’ve ever made before. And even if you are conservative with your money, that doesn’t mean you have all the tools to necessary to maximize the benefits of your new income.
Start preparing now to find a qualified, unbiased professional to help create a plan for your financial future. The average career in track and field is only three years. If you plan like you will only be competing for three years and you get to do it for thirteen, great! To ensure you have the finances to support a potentially long career doing what you love, it’s important not to spend like you’re guaranteed that longevity, only to have it cut short and find your finances in disarray.
If you’re interested in learning more about getting your finances in order, give me a call. I’m happy to schedule a 30-minute consult free of charge to share some financial wisdom and see if you feel right bringing me on your team.
In the meantime, here are a few resources you can use to begin getting your finances in order: