“You’re so special.”
“You can be anything you want to be.”
“You’re going to be a star someday.”
“You’re so talented.”
Lots of kids grow up being told variations of these praises over and over again by their loved ones. And, what’s the harm really? They’re just trying to lift their children up and let them know they are supported, right?
Well, what happens when that child grows up? Do they automatically become humbled by the difficult world we live in? Usually not. Instead, kids that grow up hearing these extremes usually turn out to think of themselves as special, privileged, or more talented than those around them, and therefore, less inclined to work hard for what they want to achieve.
And some of the worst culprits of this self-fulfilling prophecy? — Student-athletes.
Student-athletes or athletic stars grow up being told time and time again how amazing and awesome they and their athletic abilities are, and society perpetuates those notions. Successful student-athletes tend to be more popular among their peers and less inclined to excel academically.
The praise and popularity they receive from their peers, teachers, coaches, and parents have all contributed to a severely skewed student-athlete mentality. They think they don’t need to get any better, because of thoughts like, “I’m the best,” “I’m going pro someday,” and “I’m already great.”
Because, why would they? Why would someone that’s been told they’re the best, the most talented need to improve upon themselves? Why would a kid that’s been told hundreds of times that he’s the next Michael Jordan need to practice as hard as the scrawny kid on third-string glued to the bench?
Because, Jordan didn’t get to be Jordan without hard work, motivation, and dedication to the game. That’s what student-athletes today are struggling to understand, and it’s also what they need to learn if they want to succeed in collegiate or professional sports.
Simply being told you are the best, doesn’t make you the best. Thinking you are going to go pro, doesn’t automatically get you into the NBA. And knowing you are talented doesn’t do anything unless you are willing to work to hone that talent into true skill.
Overall, student-athletes need to be more self-aware if they want to succeed in sports. They need to be aware of their talents so they may work to showcase those assets the most. They need to know their deepest flaws and qualms that hold them back from success so they may work toward improving them, rather than allowing them to hinder their performance. They need to understand that they’re not special or talented simply because their past coaches told them they are, but because they know in their hearts that they have what it takes to succeed.
And, most importantly, they need to be made aware of their capacity for success. Not all student-athletes will go pro, and some of them are aware of that.
The trouble develops when student-athletes believe they have the potential to go pro don’t put in the time and effort it takes to get there. And, student-athletes that know their athletic careers will be ending in college tend to stop working and pushing themselves once they get there.
Student-athletes that truly believe they’re going pro someday can hinder themselves by not putting in the work to get to that point because they think their innate talent will carry them the whole way. They’ve been told they are special and will be a big star someday, so they believe it. And, sometimes, they believe it so much that they stop thinking their future success is contingent upon the practice, hard work, and mental toughness it takes to get there.
Coaches are really starting to notice issues when it comes to this kind of student-athlete mentality. With smartphones, Netflix, and all the knowledge or entertainment of the world at your fingertips, people, in general, are becoming steadily more reliant on instant gratification. They want results here and now, not later, not in ten years when they go pro, but now.
But, becoming a renowned professional athlete takes time. Lots of time. It takes years of practice and hard, sweaty work. Student-athletes need to stay focused and motivated on their goals and refuse to be discouraged by a lack of instant results.
However, instead of this motivated mindset, often coaches see players running for the hills or freezing on the spot when the going gets tough. Instead of fighting to be the best and working toward improving their game, student-athletes may flee at the threat of hard work or when coaches crackdown on them. This can lead to student-athletes all over the country not reaching their full, untapped potential.
The responsibility here falls both upon the role models of these players and the athletes themselves. Leaders need to help to change the way athletes think of themselves. Yes, praise them and tell them they have potential. But, don’t give them unrealistic expectations of themselves, because the fact is that not everyone can go pro and even less of them can be the best.
Also, student-athletes need to be aware of the fact that there is always room for them to improve. Their game can always be better, their skills can be sharper, and their work ethics tougher. Yes, some of them can go pro, but it’s not just going to happen because they were told that was their destiny. They must still work day in, day out to reach that goal if that’s what they truly want. No one is going to hand them a position as a professional athlete, they have to be willing to face the pains and adversities it takes to go pro.
Conversely, if a student-athlete knows there is no future for them in a sport following their college career, then they often don’t try as hard to be the best in that sport. And, why would they? Excelling in their classes and gaining meaningful work experience ought to be way more beneficial for them in the long run than playing college basketball with no hope of continuing on into the NBA, right?
Wrong, actually. Playing collegiate sports, even if the athlete has no intent or desire to continue with that sport after college, can greatly benefit student-athletes’ futures.
For instance, just because an athlete might not be going pro, doesn’t mean playing that sport in college can’t help them get their foot in the door later. Often college boosters and alums that also played sports in college will look for student-athletes when hiring in the future, and former players of your team/ endorsers of the school can be great ways to make connections that can benefit your future career.
Also, college sports, if approached correctly, can provide student-athletes with a special set of skills in the workplace. Often successful student-athletes in college learn how to work hard, dedicate themselves to a task, and motivate themselves toward achieving their goals. These are all valuable skills as student-athletes move away from athletics and into the professional world. But, they are skills that student-athletes won’t learn if they don’t put in the effort to improve and excel in their sport.
So, how can student-athletes maximize their precious time spent playing collegiate sports without intention to pursue that sport in the future? And, how can student-athletes that wish to go pro later on work to achieve that coveted goal?
They need to go in with the intent that they will receive a return off of their investment. Student-athletes need to approach sports as an opportunity. Not just an opportunity to get into the pros, but as a means to improving upon themselves, to learning the skills needed to be a part of a team, and to better understanding what motivates them to achieve.
The value that playing sports can have on a student-athlete is incalculable. But, they have to be willing to put aside the preconceived notions of their own worth and talent instilled in them by their leaders. They must be willing to humble themselves in the face of greater skill and for the betterment of their team. And, most importantly, they must learn to understand their own actions and motivations so they may excel both athletically and professionally later on.
Remember, thinking you’re the best does nothing unless you’re willing to work to be the best.
Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.
Chad Q. Brown