BASKETBALL PLAYERS IN A CORPORATE SETTING?
Life after basketball seems like a daunting prospect for a great many professional players. For those that have plied their trade all over the world and don’t have millions in the bank, it can be downright terrifying. For every NBA horror story about a former all-star filing for bankruptcy, there are hundreds of players traveling the globe, supporting their families by playing in leagues no one in the States heard of. Certainly there are players outside of the NBA that make a great living. Some can even rival NBA salaries. Most never reach those heights. With a bit of savings and dwindling prospects for jobs as a career winds down, it’s not hard to see why a lot of men and women keep playing far too long and with an increasing fear of the inevitable end. It’s easy to get caught up in a negative outlook, what skills do I have outside of basketball? Will I have to go back to school? Who would hire me? I believe many of the lessons learned in service of this job directly translate to corporate America, and certain players have a perfect skill set to enter that arena. Here is why many can thrive within that setting.
ADAPTABILITY- It’s an incredibly difficult thing to bounce around from one culture to the next, constantly moving and changing countries while trying to succeed at your job. Most European contracts are for one season at a time. Unless you get lucky and stay with a team for several years or resign early, it means packing up and heading home only to relocate again in a few months. Every time you change teams you also change coaches, expectations, and playing styles. Your game and outlook have to adapt, sometimes within the same season, as coaches are fired or new players brought in. Often you are in a new country where the style of play is different as well. For instance, basketball in the proA French League is played completely differently from ball in First Division Greece. Those that cannot adapt in this job will have no lasting power. In today’s marketplace, where everything changes so quickly and the stagnant are left behind, can too much importance be placed on this trait?
SALES- In Europe, you must constantly sell yourself both on the court and off. You can not survive with an arrogant or stand-offish nature. In the world of overseas basketball, you are expected to be open and gregarious with the fans and sponsors, even after losses. You must be able to participate in community events and autograph signings just as easily as you make a layup. Selling yourself is an art form, and I have seen plenty of players continue to get jobs based more off their personality than their abilities. The aloof, cocky and withdrawn athlete may be sometimes prized and often accepted in American sports, but in Europe it must come with amazing talent or it won’t last long.
HANDLING PRESSURE- The American players or imports are always expected to carry the team and shine the brightest. Most coaches believe that without quality imports they can’t succeed, and that is usually the case. The imports are the players with the bullseye on their backs, the ones noticed in town and talked about on fan forums. Sometimes all it takes is one bad season and the offers for next year are few and far between. Every player knows this and understands it comes with the territory. No, it isn’t life and death, but with a one month or one year contract, you are always performing for your career. Too many days off or poor performances and you are fired and replaced. It’s that simple. With today’s technology shrinking the world, there are an exorbitant amount of players willing to ply their trade overseas. In the last few years this has created too much supply and not enough demand. There are only so many jobs and far too many players ready to take yours. Although it’s demanding, it is also coveted. To have a long career as a pro player in Europe, you better be able to handle pressure. I believe an employer in any vocation would appreciate this ability.
CONFIDENCE / A THICK SKIN- To be a professional athlete in today’s world is to almost welcome criticism. The internet, social media and a 24 hour news cycle has created “experts” out of almost anyone who watches a game. Every fan is a coach, knows what you should be doing better, and is willing to tell you. Additionally, coaches and management will not pull any punches. I have heard some of the vilest and cruelest things come out of the mouths of coaches, going way past the professional and far into the personal. If you can’t respond to and perform through almost daily criticism, you can not be a professional athlete. The kind of self trust and confidence this job requires can go a long way in future vocations outside of sports.
COMPETITIVE NATURE- In order to have a long career in Europe your teams must WIN!!! It is as simple as that. There are little to no rewards, and fewer contract opportunities, for the guy or girl who averages 20 points per game and plays for the team in last place. Since most coaches sign short term contracts as well, if they don’t win, they don’t eat. They try to put together the most competitive team they can every year with the budget they are given. Usually that means signing the player whose team is always over-achieving, even if his or her stats are less impressive then the one who loses. This very same competitive nature and the need to win can be exactly what an employer needs.
TEAM ORIENTED- Basketball is, most of all, a team sport. There is a fine line between working to a common goal and also being able to stand out. Successful import players in Europe find this line and tread it carefully throughout their career. Additionally, they usually do it with a completely new team each season. Overseas basketball teams are constantly rearranged and shuffled based on the coach’s whim. Even if you resign, you often are working with a completely new set of players and personalities. This is a challenging process that requires fitting in and shining. You must be able to showcase your talents while not diminishing the skills of the group. The best and longest lasting elevate the group as a whole, and always put the team’s needs first.
In conclusion, I believe that the crossover from professional overseas basketball player to corporate employee does not have to be as daunting a proposition as it may seem at first glance. Many of the traits of top executives around the world are showcased in veteran import players. Of course the setting and arena may change, but these qualities that have been nurtured and developed over many seasons are directly transferable. Quality professional athletes are goal-oriented, hard working and stubborn in their perseverance and dedication. They are also used to training daily to hone their craft. To my fellow athletes who have not considered the business world or a corporate job as a possibility, you may have the perfect fit staring back at you. As an employer, if you have passed over a candidate with this resume I’d encourage you to give him or her another look. You may be surprised by what you find.