You’ll Rely On Your Academics Longer Than Your Athletics

I got lucky. I made the mistake that every academic counselor tries to steer student athletes away from. I didn’t put a lot of thought into a post-college career because I never considered a life without football. I eventually settled on the athlete-friendly Communication Studies major just to ‘get a piece of paper’ and fell into the “I can do anything with that degree” game. I was smart enough to get passing grades with marginal effort and kept my focus on football. Looking back, I wish I had placed as much importance on my college experiences, including my academic pursuits. To make matters worse, I had suspected that professional football would not be in my future after having surgery on my back as a redshirt freshman, yet, I wasn’t smart enough to really take advantage of the free educational opportunity in front of me. By some stroke of luck, I managed to fall into exactly what I went to school for.

Although my Communication Studies coursework was not overly intense, I apply the study of human interactions and business communications that we covered directly in operating my business. I spend time thinking about the way I communicate with my players, their parents, colleagues & other coaches, readers, potential sponsors, and the array of people I work with. I used to think I could sell anything with a well-crafted mass email, but after spending hours to make sure it was worded perfectly, I realized how quicker & more effective picking up the phone is—or better yet, a face to face conversation. I enjoy establishing a personal connection with the people I work with, and truly set out to earn their business long term. The studies & experiences I did to earn my degree will serve a great purpose for the rest of my life—much more than football will.

In my junior year, I began taking classes in the Entrepreneurial Management program (learning to start a business). This was essentially a poor man’s business minor and I gravitated to the course because class times were friendly with our football training schedule. I had no real interest in starting my own business, but the subject matter interested me and these quickly became my favorite classes. This gave me the know-how and the confidence to finally put a stake in the ground (Tyler Blum Football LLC, dba Taking Back Football) and commit to being a self-employed, full-time youth football coach—something I’m continually convincing myself is viable long-term. I find myself working “on” my business as much as I work “in” my business. The real-world knowledge and practical experience I got in the entrepreneurial program prepared me to transition from a college student to adulthood, regardless of what career direction I was headed.

Finally, the football education I received at Iowa makes up the final piece of my takeaway from the University. After having spent time in several different positions rooms, I had learned a lot about the Xs & Os across the entire field. I had learned how different positions practice and the development that occurs over time. I knew the things I was learning could be applied in simple terms to youth & high school players, and exposing them to this would give them even better opportunities than I had as a young player.

I had no plan when I graduated though, and I wasn’t specialized in anything of great value to employers. I was tremendously lucky to get hooked up with Diamond Dreams in Iowa City, and start their youth football program. I was in a position to do EXACTLY what I had gone to school for—run a business teaching (communicating) the sport of football to kids and their parents. I’ve never looked back and continue to pursue these efforts professionally and passionately everyday. I fall back on the academics I experienced at Iowa much more than athletics. Lots of people know a lot about football, but the mark of a good coach is how well you’re able to get others to receive that knowledge and to apply it on & off the field. It has nothing to do with the amount of one’s knowledge, accolades, or physical abilities.

After a few years out of the classroom, I realized that I need to continue pursing new knowledge and have enrolled in classes to further my football certifications, to become a substitute teacher, and to continually work on the professional and legal aspects of my business. I’ll reiterate to the young athletes: No matter how good you may be, there’s a huge probability that you will need to rely on your academic skills a lot more and a lot longer than your athletic skills—even if you make it to the NFL. When you get to adulthood, you will realize that being smart is pretty cool and gives you lots of options in life. Finish your school year strong, and start thinking about the kinds of careers you might enjoy as an adult. Prepare yourself for it now.

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Winnings & Losing in Youth Sports

This post was inspired by a USA Football article “How to come back from defeat,” which discusses dealing with losses in relation to a player’s purpose for participating in the first place. 

In the NFL and NCAA, coaches & players are often judged by one stat– wins & losses. Rightfully so. Football at these levels is part of big business, and nothing is better for business than winning or worse than losing. But your child’s youth football team is not a business. Coaches and players won’t be fired for going 1-4 this season, and no one will even remember the scores or records a year from now. The only things that will remain are the moments your child experienced and lessons he learned throughout the course of the season.

The personal growth and improvement a young player can achieve by dealing with adversity, overcoming challenges, and earning their success far outweighs the benefits of experiencing perpetual success. Of course, it’s necessary for every young player to learn to win with good sportsmanship, but it’s also vital for their personal development to bounce back from a tough loss. The values developed through winning are just as many as those experienced in defeat. The arc of your child’s youth athletic career should contain a mixture of results & experiences in order to maximize personal development. Isn’t that why you put them in sports in the first place?

Rather than worrying about the result of the game, focus on the personal progress of your player from beginning of the season to the end, from one year to the next. Don’t compare your player to others. Instead, compare with earlier versions of themselves. If there’s consistent progress from day-day and year-year, your player will learn to love the game and football will play an important part of their life- win or lose.