Anyone who knows me accepts the fact that I'm a huge sports fan so like most people that also makes me a huge football fan with the 49er's as my team. Recently I saw an interview with the 49er's former all-pro tight end Brent Jones who talked about the transition out of the world of pro-sports & into "real life." I was drawn to the interview both because Jones was always among my favorite players because even though he was a gritty, tough competitor, he played with class but there was a larger more powerful reason. I have read far too many stories of big name athletes who went broke, bankrupt, or even became homeless, which seems crazy given today's astronomical, multi-million dollar salaries coupled with the fact \that every team provides classes about money management. Obviously too many athletes live for the present thinking the good times will go on forever. However, Jones explained a far more interesting phenomenon reflecting on his own transition from player to coach to venture capitalist acknowledging that the road was not without speed bumps in the interview.
Initial Years After Pro Sports: “Life In The Wilderness”
As Jones pointed out, professional athletes are catered to & courted starting from a very young age so many don't always get a sense of the real world; how can they when everyone in their home life, school life & work world caters to their every whim. Their team is also in many ways, their family so they grow highly dependent on the camaraderie. While there is nothing wrong with that because most of us are hardwired to want to belong somewhere, when their sports career ends so does everything else because for their entire lives it's all been a part of one piece: making their life easy so they can focus on the game. As a child of the Silicon Valley [although he remembers the area when it was still all orchards], while he was still a player, he read books about venture capital & he networked wisely with a team-mate who attended Stanford & had VC connections to Sequoia Capital. Though through persistence & research he & other teammates [Tommy Vardell & Steve Young] were able to leverage the dot com boom into wealth in the regular work world, Jones however pointed to a period of years immediately following when a player stops being active, as a time “in the wilderness” as he calls it where many feel like they are set adrift alone in the world without a compass. It is a direct result of this difficult transition that leads once rich players to "financial despair" because they can no longer maintain the same lifestyle or support their family/entourage. It's a vulnerable time & place for ex-athletes & one where a lot of bad decisions are made.
The ‘APT Strategy’: Accept, Plan, Team
Among the many ways Jones suggests handling this phase of life, one that is almost guaranteed to happen is as follows:
- Accept the initial feeling; the transition is almost always bound to happen.
Psychologists might frame this period as a period of grief for one's former
life & grief is not something you can go around; you must go through it in
order to come out stronger on the other side
- Plan ahead. No one can play forever so start planning your “second act” while
still early in your playing career. After all this is a time when your personal
brand name has its highest value & can open doors for you
- Most pro athletes have grown up & developed as part of a team so they have learned how to function optimally within its structure. Athletes simply miss & hunger for the camaraderie of the locker room. There is nothing wrong with this since as stated above, most of us are hardwired to feel the need to belong to a group [or "team"] so he suggests that they find or build another “team”. Jones' co-founder is one of his old teammates but they have also built a team within their VC network.
Now Jones makes no guarantees about any of this but as an objective business consultant, his ideas seem to be spot-on & certainly worth trying. As a sports fan, I would really like to see these athletes have better, more successful life transition since the time spent actually playing professional sports is extremely small.