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December 17, 2013

Going pro in something other than sports

By: Reyna Gilbert-Lowry

As the famous NCAA slogan goes, “There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most will go pro in something other than sports.” As December graduation ceremonies loom, a handful of Virginia Tech student-athletes will do just that, and many will ask themselves ‘What’s next?’ as they embark upon a life outside the walls of Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum. For many student-athletes, the reality of a life without college athletics doesn’t materialize until their last day of practice, or even months after graduation. Although athletics transition is an important aspect of being a college student-athlete, it is often overlooked.

The Virginia Tech Athletics Office of Student Life is committed to assisting student-athletes in utilizing athletics as preparation for success in life. The office sponsored the annual Senior Transition in October, an event aimed at exposing senior student-athletes to the pros and cons associated with transitioning out of college athletics. Another goal of the program is to help student-athletes begin to consider, and eventually develop, the skills needed to make their transitions successful. Several campus members and alumni served as panelists for the event, including Dr. Gary Bennett, Tech’s sport psychologist. He shared some of the challenges he has seen student-athletes face when transitioning from college athletics.

“There is a definite adjustment period for student-athletes when they have completed their competitive collegiate athletic careers,” Dr. Bennett said. “A number of factors influence how that process will play out, including the reasons their careers are over (e.g. injury, cut from their team, exhausted their eligibility, and choose to retire) and the degree to which their identities have been built around their status as an athlete. The quality of this transition can be enhanced when athletes have other outlets and passions to which they can commit to after their playing days are over.”

One of the most beneficial elements of the event is the first-hand experiences shared by former Virginia Tech student-athletes. This year, softball legend Angela Tincher O’Brien and three-time NCAA wrestling qualifier David Marone served as panelists and revealed many of the challenges they faced after completing their eligibility.

After graduating from Tech in 2008, Tincher O’Brien played for two seasons with the National Pro Fastpitch’s Akron Racers and spent time coaching at Syracuse and the University of Maryland. She returned to Blacksburg in the fall and is currently the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for Tech’s softball program. Although Tincher O’Brien prolonged her athletics experience by continuing to play softball at the professional level, she admitted that it took a while to determine what else she was passionate about other than her sport.

Marone ended his athletics career on a high note in 2012 with an individual and team ACC wrestling championship, a trip to NCAA Championships, and a place in the record books with the 11th-most career wins. He is currently in his second year of the MBA program in the Pamplin School of Business, and after being out of competitive wrestling for the past year, he admitted that he is still adjusting to life post-wrestling. His advice to the seniors in attendance was not to procrastinate and to plan ahead for their futures. He also discussed how many of the skills he learned through athletics helped him throughout his master’s program and internship with the Virginia Tech Foundation. Marone was recently offered a full-time position with the organization and attributed this opportunity to establishing strong connections and networking during his time as a Tech student-athlete.

Through their participation in sport, student-athletes inherently acquire a variety of qualities that are important to their future success. These transferable skills include communication, resilience, confidence, leadership and determination and make student-athletes highly marketable in the work force. Johanna Smith, assistant director for career services, also served as a panelist and discussed several of the skills that employers look for in top candidates, many of which include those previously mentioned. She also provided information on ways student-athletes can gain experience in their chosen career fields through job shadowing, co-ops and internships. Annie Weese, staff counselor at Cook Counseling Center and newest addition to the sport psychology staff, was also on the panel and provided student-athletes with concrete ways to determine their own transferable skills. Weese asked the group how many had ever watched film and then made adjustments and related that to the transferable skill analytical thinking.

The feedback from the students in attendance was very positive, and all agreed the program provided them with tools to assist in their transition out of sport. Senior lacrosse player Kelly Naslonski said, “The Senior Transition Seminar really opened my eyes to the opportunities after college. What I have learned during my time as a student-athlete here at Virginia Tech will prove to be so valuable in my success and in my life after graduation.”

With the majority of Tech student-athletes going pro in something other than sports, the Virginia Tech Athletics Office of Student Life is committed to helping student-athletes think about their futures beyond intercollegiate athletes well before their last team huddle.