Why Personal Development in Athletics Needs to Start Early

One of my previous blog posts addressed the need to provide additional support for professional athletes as they retire from athletics. This is something I believe at my core. The more I continue to think about it, the more I believe we can do a better job of developing athletes as individuals across all levels of athletics. Investing in the personal development of athletes needs to happen earlier in the athlete’s career and it is the responsibility of athletic organizations at every level to do this.

Why? If we educate and teach the value of personal development and of proactive learning as a part of the athletic experience and ultimately, the culture, then perhaps this value will be instilled earlier in life (presumably leading to more success, happiness, etc.). I believe this will also help to curb some of the emotional and behavioral issues that can surface later in the course of an athlete’s career. 

This matters because it directly affects who these athletes become as people and the values they are taught in correlation with athletics. This is a part of what shapes them as individuals. Coaches and organizations have a chance to play a role in this and can possibly prevent issues from surfacing over the course of the athlete’s career. If athletes are taught about decision-making, leadership, self-management, values, and relationship management (among other things) earlier on, I’d like to think that they would continue this education and that behavioral issues in athletes would decline. Not only that, but by offering varied levels and topics of skill building, education and experiential work, we wouldn’t just be teaching and training individuals to get a job, but to ultimately be more successful in life. 

And this brings me full circle to why this matters for universities and professional sports organizations. Athletes reflect the brand of the team and the sport they play. From one level to the next, their behavior, attitude and who they are as a person not only reflects themselves, but also reflects on coaches they work with, teammates, the schools and their athletic organizations. How many times have we seen the story of an athlete’s behavior impact a school, team or brand in a negative way? (Hint: athletes with endorsements that do something stupid, who then afterwards, have no endorsements.)

While I acknowledge this approach won’t solve all issues facing athletics today, I believe it's a step that needs to be taken to help shift its culture. It’s a step toward helping athletes better understand themselves and becoming more educated on the very core subjects they need to succeed off the field. 

What do you think?