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Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Sports psychologist Scott Goldman discusses the struggles athletes can face in retirement from their professional and amateur careers.

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Ben Hartsock was thinking ahead to avoid difficulties following retirement.

Following a 10-year NFL career, the tight end jumped right into a career as an agent. For Hartsock, it was better than taking time to figure his life out after the structure and rigidity of an NFL career.

“There’s really two schools of thought, and there’s the school of thought you need something waiting when you’re done because idle time is the devil’s playground,” said Hartsock, who ended up realizing agent life wasn’t right after two years and is now pursuing broadcasting.

“Had I not jumped right into working, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could have downward spiraled.” 

Professional athletes, no matter the sport, leave a life of structure and must transition to a life of relative normalcy. More athletes today are thinking about it, but no matter how well-prepared the transition, it can still cause hiccups, Hartsock said. After 20 years of playing football, Hartsock said it’s almost like being institutionalized.

“I don’t know what other industry or business has a similar experience,” he said. “The shelf life of an athlete is limited in a way I can’t think any other profession is. Think about going to high school getting great marks, going to college and excelling, and after five or 10 years of being the best surgeon in the world, they take it away from you. That’s hard.”

READ MORE: As Retirement Nears, Yankees Star CC Sabathia Experiments With ESPN Deal

Athlete struggles following their athletic career’s end is not an easy topic to address, said Scott Goldman, the president-elect of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Goldman is a sports psychologist who’s worked for 20 years with collegiate and professional athletes.

Much of the conversation in post-career struggles revolve around professionals, but Goldman said it’s also a serious issue among collegiate athletes as well, as 90 percent don’t go professional. While many sports don’t have a clear path to the pros, Goldman said those that do — like basketball and football — can make inflate aspirations.

Goldman said he’s happy that leagues, like the NFL, are working intently to help create programs and guide players through their career and after to help ease the pain.

When Goldman works with an athlete struggling post-career, he said he likes to follow the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Leaving an all-or-nothing career, like professional athletics, can leave athletes in a similar depression as losing a loved one.

“For some of them, it’s as much a shift in identity as dealing with a tragic loss,” Goldman said. “Most of these athletes get up at 6 a.m. and their day is largely accounted for and scheduled. It can be really intense when they leave.”

Goldman said he believes more potential employers are realizing that while athletes mostly don’t have lengthy business resumes, the commitment and dedication to their careers and being successful can often easily translate to the business world.

Often times, careers ended because of injuries are worse because they’re sudden. For careers like Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, players get a goodbye tour and can ease into their retirement through a grief-like path.

Beyond the personal-identity struggle, Goldman said athletes also often struggle with their financials following retirement. The general public has a perception of multimillionaire contracts, and while some athletes are set for life, those contracts are in reality few and far between. More common are the sub-million dollar contracts with athletes averaging less than three years as a professional athlete. Add on trying to ensure that money and whatever post-retirement career the athlete ends up pursuing to obligations, and the stress can be high.

READ MORE: Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

“It’s amazing the demand of the million dollar athlete,” Goldman said.

Former athletes balancing a dwindling bank account with their lack of direction can experience a perfect storm for emotional troubles. That’s where people like Goldman and companies like Priority Sports, Hartsock’s former agency, and its Preparing for Life After the NFL, or P.L.A.N., come in. 

Leaving a professional sports career often doesn’t have a ceremonial ending like other transitions in high school to college; college to the working world; or even a long TV series finale. Goldman said he doesn’t often like to use cliches, but can’t avoid one in this situation.

“It’s more of a transition than a severance,” Goldman said. “When you exit one room, you enter another space. Sometimes we focus on what we’re leaving and other times, it’s what we’re entering.

“It’s important to accept what we leave, and see what’s coming next and find meaning.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Professional Development

Navigating Negotiation: 3 Tips to Effectively Handle Your Next Crucial Conversation

What’s the difference between those who succeed at negotiation and those who don’t? You might be surprised by the actual answers.

Jarrod Barnes

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Regardless of your role within sports business — whether it’s a raise, sponsorship activation, contract, or expanded opportunity — at least one aspect of negotiation is involved in our daily job descriptions.

According to a recent study, only 29 percent of job seekers negotiated their salary at their current or most recent job. All the while, according to the same report, 84 percent of those confident enough to ask for higher pay succeed in getting it.

What’s the difference between those who succeed at negotiation and those who don’t? Some sports business professionals offered their best tips to effectively handle your next crucial conversation.

Effective Preparation and Practice

“One thing that people tend to do when they get to those crucial conversations in life, no matter how good they are at what they do, they think they have it all in their head, and they wing it,” says sports agent, author and well-known negotiator Ron Shapiro.

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

Negotiation begins with knowing your worth. Gathering the most relevant information to reinforce your position, whether it’s current salary ranges or market analysis, can lead to a more holistic perspective. While it may seem easy to think your position is correct (which it may be), the market doesn’t care much about what you think you’re worth; at the end of the day, hiring managers or customers are going to offer you what they think you’re worth.

Shapiro would go on to say, “a critical step in preparation is weighing alternatives. Alternatives make you less dependent on one option or customer and therefore create leverage, which is particularly useful when negotiating from a position of relative weakness.”

Embrace “No”

While fear of rejection is common when navigating a negotiation or crucial conversation, a strong reality is that negotiation doesn’t actually begin until someone says “no.”

“No” signals an opportunity to problem-solve the conflicting and overlapping interests both parties want to serve and figure out how both can get as much of their desired outcomes as possible. Our reluctance to negotiate past “no” may keep us from obtaining the “yes” we truly desire.

“Whoever you’re negotiating with is a person just like you. Don’t overthink it or assume it needs to be more than it is. Make sure to level the playing field and refuse to let your worth slide, especially your non-negotiables. Be overly clear,” says Connor Dietz, director of sales & strategy for Train Up First.

Listen and Respond

When preparing and practicing for a conversation, it can be easy to allow our emotions to overtake us if things don’t go according to plan. Yet, being “hijacked” by our emotions sabotages our ability to make good decisions or to react skillfully.

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

“It’s not only what you say; it’s how you say it. Because as a negotiator, you want the other side to feel your confidence,” claims Shapiro.

It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations, but the more conversation you have with those involved, the more natural it feels. Start small when the stakes are low, try negotiating with your colleagues, at a garage sale, or with family. There are countless opportunities to practice. Negotiation begins with knowing your worth and ends when you’re willing to walk away.

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Professional Development

Inside Julianne Viani’s Whirlwind of a Broadcasting Career

The broadcaster has made a name for herself, thanks to a tireless work ethic and covering everything from college basketball to the NBA and WNBA.

Bailey Knecht

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Julianne Viani might be the busiest analyst in sports.

The 33-year-old originally from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is constantly on the go, working as an analyst for major networks like ESPN, CBS, NextVR, Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network. Between games, travel and preparation, Viani has a full slate, bouncing from city to city for the majority of the year.

“Some people only cover men’s college basketball and only focus on that,” Viani said. “I cover everything, from men’s college basketball to women’s college basketball to the NBA and WNBA. I have to keep tabs on what’s going on, on all platforms. It’s a lot of work, and you don’t have to know everything there is to know, but you have to know enough about the big picture on every single platform.”

Even on her off-days, Viani spends her time studying teams and taking conference calls with coaches.

“People are too smart and can pick up whether you know the game,” she said. “You can tell when someone isn’t prepared, and my biggest thing is, I never want to not be prepared. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to happen, but the bottom line is I need to make sure I’ve studied up.”

READ MORE: Bartending, Country Music, and Kay Adams’ Relentless Path to Success

Viani is a basketball lifer, having played Division-I basketball on a Marist team that made multiple NCAA tournament runs and then played professionally overseas. When she returned to the U.S., she was presented with an opportunity to break into broadcasting, starting with high school games.

“When you produce long enough, you just know right away,” said Steven Fenig, ESPN remote producer and director who has known Viani since covering her as a player at Marist. “It’s weird, I mean, a lot of people that play the game and coach game know it inside and out, but not everybody that’s played is able to take what they know and communicate that to the average viewer and break it down easy for the viewer to understand. Right away with her, I saw that she was really talented.”

Viani worked her way up, and now, one of her main jobs is with the NextVR, where fans can experience NBA games in virtual reality. Her experience with NextVR puts her at the forefront of a branch of the sports industry that most analysts have yet to delve into.

“It’s a full-blown broadcast like regular TV, but it’s fusing technology with the sports industry and broadcast world,” she said. “It’s all about catering to the public, so they can turn their head to the left and right and experience the game. It’s different.”

Matt Drummond, coordinating producer at NextVR, explained why Viani has been so successful in her role there.

“I think it’s her diverse experience and relaxed nature, which are the two ingredients that we look for from everyone involved,” he said. “She’s willing to do whatever to get the job done, and she has the experience to draw from and work through it. We’re always problem-solving on the run because things rarely go to plan, so we need someone with a cool head and calm voice to work through it.”

When it comes to NBA games, it’s still relatively uncommon to see women in the broadcast booth, but NextVR has made it a point to hire diverse analysts.

“The chance to call a full slate of games as a color analyst as a female — it’s really rare,” Viani said. “NextVR has given me a lot of opportunities, and they’ve been good about having women and former players do this. It’s amazing to see the technology out there and be on the front lines and gain experience at the highest level.”

“It’s great having a female voice in our group, and that was something we were looking for,” added Drummond. “She’s brought everything we need to the table. Her work ethic is ridiculous. I don’t know how she puts in that much travel. Every day, she’s in a new city.”

Viani is transparent about the challenges of her job — she admits that the jam-packed schedule takes a toll on her.

“It’s hard,” she said. “During the year, I do get burnt out by the end of the year. By April, I’m really drained and ready for the beach and downtime. I need a whole month to recover. It goes from late October through April nonstop. December, January, February and March are bananas.”

Viani also acknowledged that the scheduling challenges stem from her involvement with a variety of networks, which makes for an inconsistent routine.

“For me, it’s hard to work for a lot of different networks,” she said. “Being an independent contractor is not easy. I get paid by the game, so you’ve got to hustle, and you can do well and make living if you’re getting opportunities, but not having the protection of being with one network is tough.”

Viani is able to keep her spirits high throughout the season, though, because she genuinely loves what she does.

“She just does a spectacular job — there’s always a smile on her face, she’s easy to work with, she’s got a great attitude, she gets along with everybody,” Fenig said. “She’s worked hard to improve her craft, and you can see that by watching her and listening to her.”

She also leans on her faith to get her through the grind of the basketball season.

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“My faith in God is the most important thing that drove me as a player and now in broadcasting,” she said. “I know every door has been opened because God has opened it, and I’ve walked through it and worked because He’s given me talent, so I want to give him glory.”

Although travel and working with multiple networks has become second nature to Viani, she has dreams of locking down a deal with one network and developing a steadier routine.

“I think my goal would be — I love doing a variety of things, but I’d love to be married to one network and focus my attention to just one, whether it’s ESPN or CBS or whatever,” she said.

And even though analyst jobs are in high demand, particularly at the top networks, those who have worked with Viani have faith that she has what it takes.

“For Julianne, the sky’s the limit for her, and as long as she’s willing to stay with it, she’ll get that opportunity as long as she’s persistent,” Fenig added. “Her work ethic and attitude is certainly there, and the talent is there. Hopefully she’ll get that opportunity, and if she does, she’ll nail it.”

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Professional Development

How To Effectively Network at Major Sports Events

There is no shortage of opportunities to network, learn, build relationships and gain access to new experiences at tentpoles such as the Super Bowl.

Jarrod Barnes

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What do the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend, and NCAA Final Four all have in common?

The best of the best are competing on the field or court. Fans will travel from all over the world to experience these upcoming major sports events, including some of the biggest celebrities and influencers in sports business. In fact, there are an estimated 200,000 passengers arriving per day for the Super Bowl between February 1 and 4 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Clearly, there is no shortage of opportunities to network, learn, build relationships and gain access to new experiences at this tentpole. But how does one properly leverage the opportunity? Here are four tips on how to effectively maximize your next trip to a major sporting event, such as the Super Bowl.

Determine Your Goals and Desired Outcomes

Whether you are traveling across the country or staying local, outlining your goals and desired outcomes prior to attending an event will allow you to focus your time and energy.

Deciding what you want to get out of the experience, who you want to connect with, and how you want to connect with them all play a significant role in taking full advantage of the opportunity. Asking yourself questions such as, ‘why do I want to connect with this person?’ ‘What value can I bring to them?’ ‘What specifically can I learn from them?’

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

Each one will give you greater clarity on your next steps.

“Preparation is vital. Learn about the people attending and the organizations they represent. Have a business card even if you’re unemployed, as well as an elevator speech that connects with the intended audience and has a purpose,” said Mike Boykin, CEO, Bespoke Sports and Entertainment, an experiential marketing agency specializing in sponsorship consulting and activation.

Reaching out to connections beforehand through social media or email can also create space for a invitation to events or meetups. Exclusive, invite-only events are organized and planned by people. Do you know those people? Finding a way to intentionally align yourself with decision-makers are what provide access.

Identify Key Stakeholders and Events

Sports agencies like VaynerSports and pro athletes like Kenyan Drake and Champ Bailey are hosting events that open the door to additional networking opportunities. In addition, local academic institutions generally host events or have sports-management programs involved in volunteer opportunities.

For example, Georgia Tech is hosting the NFL’s 1st and Future Startup pitch competition and the University of Georgia is taking a group of 25 students to volunteer the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

But with a variety of events, it can be easy to lose sight of the goals you took the time to outline. Ben Milsom, chief ticketing officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gave this advice: “Manage your time. So often people try to network with too many people and end up wasting time.

“Ask effective open-ended questions like, ‘How did you get your start in the business?’ ‘What steps should I take to be successful in my first year?’ ‘What mistakes did you make when you were my age and how can I avoid them?’ When you don’t make it about yourself, it’s amazing what you will learn.”

Fundraisers and community events like the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Luncheon are also an avenue for making connections. Networking can take place in nearly any environment; it’s up to you to bring the intentionality and focus.

Be Present

“Enter conversations with the goal of learning more about the person versus sharing information about you. Everyone likes to talk, but listeners who ask insightful questions tend to come out on top.” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University. “It’s one thing to have your business card or portfolio ready; it’s another thing to be ready to listen and add value.”

Charles Davis, a football analyst for FOX Sports, said: “As much as you ask of — and take from — others, you should be prepared to do the same for others.”

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

A mindset of abundance may sound counterintuitive, but has the ability to cultivate a strong network.

Have Intentional Follow-Up

Connections and conversations are great, but true collaboration comes through follow-up. Within 24 to 48 hours, be sure to send an email or handwritten thank-you note.

One way to stand out is to mention not only what you discussed with that person, but also what it meant to you and how you may use it as a professional. Don’t hear a response? Stay consistent by providing monthly or quarterly updates; those are a great way to stay top of mind.

Overall, major sporting events not only provide incredible experiences, but also incredible access to networking opportunities. Taking the time to outline your goals and identify key stakeholders prior to events allows you to be present when your opportunity arises.

Who knows, you may also come out as a champion at this year’s Super Bowl.

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