Smart Girls Wanted, Non-Athletes Need Not Apply

Here’s the truth: athlete beats non-athlete pretty much every time. If I am looking to hire you to work for me, smart is good, initiative is great, willingness to try new things is necessary, and good character is a must, but check the box marked ‘athlete’ and you move to the top of the resume pile. Provided you meet the other requirements, you’re hired.

But what about the room full of athletes? the whole team of athletes? or the club that’s full of high level athletes? all competing for the job I want, vying for positions I’m considering, and trying to get noticed like I am? Simple: play to your strengths. You’ve probably been doing it since you were four years old.

Why is this so hard for girls? I think it’s because girls don’t realize that sport is their strength and they often don’t see it as an opportunity, an advantage or a career path.

IMG_0940This got my attention when I participated in a “speed mentoring” session hosted by the College of William and Mary as part of their Celebration of Women’s Athletics. Female athletes at the College were invited to meet and network with professional women who were Tribe Athlete alums. For an hour or so I chatted with young women who introduced themselves by telling me their name, their major, their expected graduation year and their prospective career plans. If I asked, they told me their sport. Highly accomplished athletes, every one of them, but this was an afterthought on the day’s agenda.

Because my undergraduate major was Biology and my business, Fit2Finish, is science- based and medically connected, I was positioned in the “math and science” section of the room. Many of the girls who came by were Kinesiology majors, with a smattering of Biology, Mathematics, Psychology and the occasional English major. They were smart girls – of course they were – because you have to be smart to get into William and Mary, but their career direction was extremely narrow: medicine, physical therapy, or physician’s assistant.

Not one of these female athletes was considering a career in sports or athletics. 

Why were they choosing medicine and/or clinical science?  Because this is what “smart girls” do. This is what they are “supposed to” do. One girl even told me she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a doctor, but her parents both were doctors and she thought they expected it of her. The concerned and uncertain look on her face betrayed her doubt.

“I applied to medical schools after college and I didn’t get accepted,” I admitted to these girls. They were surprised. Yes, even “smart” people don’t get accepted, but that provided a great opportunity for me to ask myself a very important question: Did I apply to medical school because I wanted to or because I thought I should? It shows when you’re heart really isn’t in something, and only those with hearts and minds set on years and years of study and training to be doctors should become doctors.

“Well, what other things can you do with a science major?” they asked. Now, they were talking!

Kelly Buckley, an adviser at William & Mary’s Cohen Career Center, shared how she approaches guiding these students. She told me that 70-80% of the careers these student-athletes will end up in don’t even exist yet, so they shouldn’t necessarily be seeking the career they want. They should ask themselves:

  • What can I do? (what skills do I like to use?)
  • What do I want to do? (what energizes me? what am I passionate about doing?)
  • Who do I want to do it for? (what environment do I like or find interesting?)

Student-athletes need to test their boundaries more, Ms Buckley observed. “They like to do well and work hard, but they may never have really challenged themselves. They don’t know how to handle failure.” It is essential to find not only what works but what doesn’t. When something doesn’t work, it isn’t a failure, it succeeds in showing them that’s not what they want to do/be/pursue.

“They need to have more conversations, meet more people and get more exposure,” Buckley told me. That was exactly what was happening at our speed mentoring session, and apparently many student-athletes had scheduled appointments at the career center as a result. Buckley also confirmed my suspicions about girls and sports careers, admitting that she, as a math major, had taken a conservative career path but was jealous of a friend who had gotten hired as a statistician for the New York Mets! — a “dream job” that she had never considered.

Very few of our female athletes are considering these kinds of jobs. To them, sports is a vocation that’s gotten them to college, the scholarship was their crowning glory. But after four years, they’ll hang up their cleats, shelve their gloves, put away their jerseys, swim suits, racquets and sticks and settle into the world — of work.

Ladies, why not consider working in sports and athletics?!! We need good coaches, referees, sports analysts, athletic directors. We need sports writers, commentators, and statisticians. We need team doctors, concussion analysts, physical therapists, and athletic trainers. We need physical education teachers, parks and rec managers, event coordinators, and marketing and sales reps.There are thousands of other career paths out there where you can use what you have learned along with what you have loved about athletics.

There are so many careers for women in sports these days, why aren’t they pursuing them? Because many are making the same mistake I did. They reason: my athletic ability got me into a good college but my brain will get me a good job. If I am bright, I should get the “best” job or the “highest paying” job because I’ve worked so hard to excel in my studies…

Ladies, it’s time to look at what you want to do and you’re meant to do, not just what you “should” do. Sports, athletics, health and recreation offer careers where you can thrive and succeed, with challenge and the opportunity for you to make a tremendous difference in people’s lives. Every employer wants motivated, capable, smart employees who are willing to learn and happy to be part of their team. Tell ’em you’re an athlete, and it’ll earn you bonus points. Trust me.

Then do what you’ve always done: play to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and leave it all on the field!

Here are some links (courtesy of the William & Mary website) to listings for careers in:

See also the Careers in Sports page, here on the Fit2Finish website.

For a boost to your mental game, Ladies of Sport, here’s Deirdre Connelly, (Keynote Speaker for this event) with a goldmine of take-to-the-game advice. Have a watch:

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