The 12 Things I Wish I Knew As A College Athlete

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Over the past week, I met with two college athletes who asked me “what I wish I would have known (and done) while in college?” In order to be better prepared for those conversations, I wrote down some of my thoughts. As I did this, I realized I had a few regrets (primarily for not taking action when I had the chance). My goal was to make sure the people I met with knew this so perhaps they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

Following the meetings, I expanded the notes a bit… While the advice was originally meant for college athletes, I quickly learned that it could apply to anyone. Here they are…

  • Learn to speak in front of people. Public speaking is one of the most useful skills in the world to develop. It’s a “reps” game. The more you do it, the better you will be. (Bonus points if you have someone in the audience who is able to coach you and make you better). Warren Buffett still says the greatest investment he’s ever made was the $100 Dale Carnegie class he took early in his career that taught him how to be a better public speaker. Don’t wait to do this. Episode to listen to: #263 with Charlie McMahan. Book to read: TED Talks by Chris Anderson.
  • Learn how to sell. No matter what your major is, you will need to sell. Join the Sales Club at your school (they exist at most schools). Ohio University has one of the best in the country. I did not join the Sales Club and I regret it. Episode to listen to: #221 with Phil Jones. Book to read: To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.
  • Write great papers. The best way to become a better writer is to write. Again, developing quality communication skills (speaking and writing) will help you long term regardless of what you decide to do after college. Also, think about documenting your experience as a college athlete in a journal or even a blog. I wish I would have journaled in college. I would love to look back on those writings now to remind me what it was like being a college quarterback. I have memories, but it would have been even better if I had written them down… Episode to listen to: #242 with Daniel Coyle.
  • Seek out mentors. Ask your coaches, professors, and other interesting people if they’ll meet with you (just like you did with me). They’ll say yes. Bonus: After you meet with someone who helped you and taught you something, do this: Write them a follow up email. Share with them everything you learned and how it will positively impact your life. Ask them if you missed anything. Tell them to forward your email to any other person they mentor so you can have a “multiplying effect” on your meeting. This will differentiate you from 99% of the people out there… And it will show your mentor that you care. Not only about yourself, but about others as well. It will also create another person who will root for your success, and that is never a bad thing. Episode to listen to: #245 with Maria Taylor.
  • Develop curiosity for something outside of sports or your direct major. “Read what you love until you love to read.” Go deep on something that is outside of your normal studies. Build the framework now (at a young age) for the ability to master a topic. This will help you as you continue to progress in life. Episode to listen to: #217 with JJ Redick.
  • Visit your professors. If they have office hours, make a point to connect with your professors. They love it, and you’re able to learn directly from a wise person who has more life experience than you. This serves multiple purposes: 1) You learn something new. 2) If you’re on the border of getting a B+ or an A, those meetings can push you over the edge. Episode to listen to: #216 with Jim Collins.

Talk to your coaches about life. I played for interesting coaches who traveled the world and had a lot of great experiences. And I never met with them outside of our standard football meetings. I regret that. Make time to talk with your coaches about things other than your sport. (I’m assuming you have good coaches). There is a lot to learn from people who have more “life reps” than you. Episode to listen to:#244 with Bill Curry.

  • Build real friendships with your teammates. You have a shared experience and a bond you’ll remember for the rest of your life with your teammates. Don’t take it for granted. Be curious about your teammates. Ask them questions, visit them in their hometown, meet their parents. I remember visiting the home of one of my teammates from Miami. I met his entire family, shared a great dinner, and learned a lot more about him. It created a bond and I felt more empathy and care for him moving forward. I wish I would have done this more. Episode to listen to: #78 with Kat Cole.
  • Be smart on social media. Everything you put on social media is searchable forever. Be defined by what you love. Don’t complain, degrade, or be negative about anything on social media. If you choose to use it, share things you love: good stories, great people, good books, inspiring videos, etc… Episode to listen to: #211 with Vanessa Van Edwards.
  • Be known as someone who speaks positively behind someone’s back. My favorite teammate and one of the most likable people I’ve met is Austen Everson. He’s known as someone who always spoke positively of others, whether they were there or not. Be someone who spreads “positive gossip.” Lift others up, share great news/stories about people. This will differentiate you from the rest of those who spread negative gossip. Be positive about your friends, teammates, other people in general. Episode to listen to: #127 with Adam Grant.
  • Remember your fundamentals. You will continue to improve in both your sport and school when you focus on the little things. “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Be focused when you prepare, practice, study game plans on opponents, review film, or spend time in the weight room. Episode to listen to: #207 with Liz Wiseman.
  • Focus on continual improvement. Focus on getting 1% better every single day. Over time, this compounds (just like interest) and a year from now, you will be exponentially better. Focus on today and getting better today… And then tomorrow… And so on. Episode to listen to: #248 with James Clear.

Ryan Hawk played quarterback at Miami University and Ohio University. He is the host of The Learning Leader Showa podcast with more than 275 episodes with the world’s most thoughtful leaders.

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