2016 - Post 8: Recruiting, Making It Professional

Welcome back to Saturday Morning Coffee.  February's posts about recruiting have gone by quickly.  This fourth week post is going to talk about the process of going from being a college athlete (or a college student), to maximizing the chances at an opportunity to play as a professional.

It is my opinion that the first thing to consider is that professional sports are unlike semi-pro, or college, or high school, club, youth, or really any other levels that typically come before it.  Professional sports are not something that will allow for your time to be divided up and spread out; not if you'd like to remain a professional athlete, anyway.  If you'd like to pursue being a pro, then it is important to understand that it takes a level of focus on improvement that "trumps" (no pun intended, Donald) any amount of focus it would require for a less populated occupation.  There are tons of statistics you hear growing up on how few high school and college players move on to be pros, and it's directed to get students to mind their education.  All of those commercials and advertisements are spot on.  The number of pros is small.  If we discount the number of people who call themselves pro athletes, but don't support their lifestyle with playing sports, then the number becomes even smaller.  However, for those that are still with me, and still interested on my perspective of the routes to move in the direction of playing pro sports... let's dive in, with three options.

Some of these pieces of advise change when we are discussing different sports.  For education, familiarity, and experience's sake, I am going to be volleyball specific.  If you're a reader from another sport, I have some information, but you can email me and for the questions that I cannot answer, I can point you in the direction of a colleague who can.

Option One

You are a college athlete with a good athletic reputation.  People know who you are as an athlete, and you are at the top of the college competition.  Perhaps you're an All-American or a champion of some sort.  If you fall into this category then the first step is to make sure you do your homework.  Not the kind that professors hand out in school, but the kind dealing with compliance.  If you're an NCAA athlete, you should hold off on all discussions about being a pro until your final season has ended.  If you are going to talk before that, it should be with your compliance office, your parents/guardians, and/or your coach.  Don't ruin the finish to your college season by entertaining conversations with an agent before it's legal.

That brings us to step two, an agent.  It is not mandatory to have an agent; however, if you're in this option one scenario, then it is best that you have an agent to protect you.  A sports agent is a man or woman who represents your name (among other clients) and shops you around to find the best available options to play.  You can sign with an agent, or you can be represented by an agent while staying independent.  That is detached from signing a contract with a sports team.  Some ways to find an agent, in order from most effective to least effective are:

- a personal introduction from someone who already uses one

- a referral from your coach or another coach you have a relationship with

- a sporting agent website or agency

- an online search for a sports agent

** Note: you may be fortunate enough to have agents contact you through phone or social media. If so, you've got to make sure that you do some research on who they are and who they've represented.  Most importantly, remember to wait until your last season is over!

Put together what is called a "CV" or an athletic resumé.  List your name, birth date, height, weight, and country.  Fill it in with all of your relevant athletic teams, relevant athletic accolades, relevant finishes to the season, and perhaps where you graduated from.  It's up to you do decide what is relevant, but start with this:

Your college team making the final four = relevant

You being an All-American = relevant

Your high school team's record from the season = not so relevant (to pro sports)

Your middle school MVP trophy = (while important) is not relevant to pro sports

If you're a "well-known" player then you should have some video from your college matches that you can cut up.  Have at least two full match films to send to your agent.  Also have some highlights available if the team or your agent asks for them.  Keep your options open, and if your agent finds some teams that are interested, my advice is to not shut them out if you're a rookie.  It isn't easy to find the perfect situation if you're a volleyball player.  Just like college, and just like high school, most of us will have to work our way up the imaginary ladder.  

 

Option Two

You are a college athlete without a "big player" reputation.  Maybe you're known locally and a few people have told you that you MIGHT have the skills to play beyond college.  Maybe you've told yourself that.  Either way, you want to play as a pro, but realize that your road will be more difficult in comparison to more decorated players.  As it is similar to option one, you can work on finding an agent.  In this scenario, the process can be alike, but finding a job that suites you may not be as simple.  This is where you'll learn more about how to setup a contract.

Inside of a contract, you want to identify what is most important to you.  Is it location?  Is it level of the league?  Is the money the most important thing to you?  How about weather, or safety, or housing, or having a car... maybe even how many seasons you're signing for.  These are all important questions that have to be answered before you begin prioritizing your potential jobs.  However, it is not all that is important.  You've always got to make sure that your bases are covered.  What is your insurance situation if you have an injury or accident?  Are you covering your meals or is your club covering your meals?  Do you have bonuses for overachieving?  Do you have fines for breaking policy?  There may be other stipulations in your contract that say, "You have to do this, in order to get this."  Like any job, you should review the contract before you sign the dotted line.  The best way to prepare for that is to have a list of questions or concerns for your agent so that he can expedite those concerns over to the club, that way everything is laid out from the jump.

All of that being said, you don't have to have an agent.  It is the much more secure way, and if things go wrong then an agent can go to bat for you and should be able to tell you your rights... but no, it is not a mandate.  If you can develop the contacts to represent yourself, then you can make your own contracts.  There are players in every sport, including women's and men's volleyball, who play on the National Team and have an agent who handles everything for them.  And there are also players on those same National Teams who do their own research, brand their own names, and create their own contracts.  Representing yourself will make you much more vulnerable, yet, it is a way to get exactly what you want and create your own jobs.  

 

Option Three

You are a player who didn't play for a prominent program, or a player who didn't play in college at all.  Maybe you started to play late.  Maybe you played and have taken some years off and want to come back to the game.  This is the scenario where you don't have any recent video or haven't played at a high level recently.  If you're in this situation, then the most important thing for you is to make a contact.

You'll have to find a contact who's either played at the pro level, coaches at the pro level, or is an agent.  The next step is to find a tryout.  Without video and without a reputable connection that can get you a contract, you'll have to go with an agency to a foreign country and show your skills.  You will likely have to pay for the plane ticket and the travel, maybe even the lodging... but it's a chance to get seen.  Clearly, this is the most difficult situation of the three and the least likely to work out; yet, it is possible.  Invest in yourself.  Get the coaches for your sport, get the trainers for the weight room, get as many playing opportunities as you can, AND TAKE VIDEO (even if you're the only one in the gym with a camera).  You'll have to get comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable.  

 

If you enjoyed the read, hit the "Like" button below, and I would really enjoy reading your comments in the comments section below.  If you want to join the list for email updates or invite a friend, drop your email at the top of the page to the right.  Come on back next Saturday for a brand new March topic.   

Have a blessed week,

Chris Austin