Confession time. I had never finished a book until I was 31 years old. Not a single one. During my athletic career, I never saw a reason to sit still and concentrate for however many hours it took to go cover to cover. I was a hockey player – my job was to play hockey. Now that I’m retired from being a professional athlete, everything has changed. I’ve read more than 500 books in the past five years. Just like practice, the more I read, the easier it got. And I don’t say this to be the “oh look at me I’ve read a ton of books” guy. Really.
I admit this because I wish I would’ve been more open to learning and growing during my hockey career. Far too few athletes nowadays are taking initiative during their careers to grow, learn and set themselves up for life after professional sports. Just like in sports, learning new skills takes years and years of practice and repetition. That’s why I always advocate for young athletes to start thinking about their growth now. That way, they’ll be that much further ahead when it’s time to hang up the cleats, skates, clubs, or racquet.
Athletes need to take advantage of the spotlight during the prime of their career when it’s brightest and most accessible. As my business partner Bryan Goodwin (aka Goody) always says, athletes don’t realize the networking opportunities they have at their fingertips.
Don’t be turned off by the concept of “always learning.” This doesn’t have to be like school. It may seem intimidating or distracting to branch out and start looking into business deals, content creation, music, or whatever else may interest you. But someday, the game will be over and you’ll need an outlet for your competitiveness, creativity, and drive.
Professional athletes can take small steps during their careers to gain a competitive edge beyond the box score. Here are some lessons I wish I knew during my career:
Don’t become one-dimensional
Athletes never want to be one-dimensional players. Sure, you can have a nice life as a 3-point specialist or a funky submarine reliever, but the best players in any sport do a bit of everything well.
In the same way, you don’t want to let your professional sports career turn you into a one-dimensional human being. Establishing yourself as more than an athlete during your career is crucial. If you wait until your prime is over and the spotlight’s gone, it might be too late to take advantage of the influence and recognition you’ve worked so hard to build. There’s more to life than sports, and we all have other interests we’re capable of exploring. Winning in life means branching out beyond our comfort zone.
Filling in the gaps
Self-awareness is one of those qualities that translates from sports into the real world, be it business, education, or anything else. An athlete has to know what they’re good at and what they’re not so good at. We work with their teammates and coaches to fill in the gaps and become a whole as a team. It’s the same thing outside sports.
Surround yourself with the people and resources that can help you build the skills you need to succeed off the field. It doesn’t make you weak to admit you need some help; it actually makes you smart. Just like in sports, you have to find real-world mentors that can give you the direct, honest, and sometimes difficult feedback you need to improve.
I always look at Goody as a great example. Bryan knows the business world so well, and because I showed a willingness to work and learn, he’s helped me start to understand what it’s all about. Business is way more fun than I ever thought it would be. When we sign a new athlete to our platform, it’s the same feeling as scoring an OT winner or swishing a buzzer-beater. Wins are wins.
Take advantage of networking
“Networking” can be one of those blah business words that makes an athlete roll their eyes. All it really means is this; find the people who understand the areas you want to explore and reach out.
Professional athletes have more sway than they realize a lot of the time. You have the power to grab lunch with a marketing director of a company that interests you, or even play a round of golf with an author, musician, or actor. These interactions can happen naturally, and they can set you up with mentors and teammates that will help you fill in those gaps. You never know what’s going to happen unless you reach out.
That’s what I mean about taking initiative during your career. People know who you are, and they’re more than likely happy to help you get where you want to be outside your sport.
Building your own feedback loop
As soon as a game is over, athletes have access to immediate feedback. We can read our stat lines, watch film, and look at the analytics to know exactly where we stand and what we need to improve on. The real world doesn’t always offer that extensive feedback loop.
Business deals or creative contracts aren’t always as black and white as sports are. But with years of repetition and practice, you can start to interpret the feedback you’re getting. I didn’t know a balance sheet from an income statement before I started working with Goody. Now, I’m able to read these numbers like I read a box score.
Of course, this feedback goes beyond the numbers. It all goes back to setting yourself up with mentors and teammates you can trust. They’ll help you get to where you want to be. The sooner you start that journey, the better off you’ll be.
To teach the next generation, you have to keep learning. That’s what legacy is all about. TorchPro is a sports media that’s empowering athletes to break the one-dimensional mode and explore the things outside sports that pique their interests. Our goal is to provide athletes with the tools they need to tell their stories and build a brand that lasts. Fans get unprecedented access to their favorite athletes, and brands gain exposure to new audiences. Everyone wins.