Eight Brutal Honest Tips For Sport Stars Leaving School

Author - Michael Dick - Head of Sport at Univerity of Witwatersrand

I am sure my colleagues at other universities in SA would agree that like a stuck record, we give the same advice year after year to potential recruits and their parents. Often ignored (especially in the rugby world), until of course it’s too late…..

So I decided to pen down some great advice to school leavers that hopefully some would take note off. Hitting the big time in the world of sport is extremely difficult, but follow these advise and success will come your way whether on the sports field or in life.

1. Get a qualification.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a degree, diploma or a trade but get something behind your name. I know you do not think it’s necessary because of the “millions” you are going to make playing sport. The brutal truth is nobody …not you, not me, not your parents, not your coach and certainly not your agent can predict your future success on the sport field. The overwhelming majority of people never get the opportunity to make sport a career and even if you are exceptional your career will come to an end, often sooner than you think.

Just to ensure I am not perceived as negative I also have some good news in this regard. The moment you have something behind your name you will start playing better and that is often when the great opportunities come along. Having something behind your name also allow you to pursue opportunities that you might normally be hesitant off.

2. Success breeds Success

Life is unfair in this regard. Don’t think you will make a mess of your studies but your sport career will flourish. People that make a success of one thing will often make a success of the other things they are involved with, but believe me the opposite is also true. Do whatever you do well and you will be rewarded.

3. Be happy

For a sport career (and a professional career) to be successful your life need to be in order. Your relationships with everybody in your life need to be in a good space and whatever you do, DO NOT complicate your life. The high performance sport environment is a stressful high pressure environment. Throw in work or studies and it goes without saying you do not need any drama or negative influences. Especially appreciate your parents and value the integral role they play in your life.

4. Talent is not enough

Do not let any self-help book ever tell you talent is not important. It’s vital! But be under no illusion, talent is not in short supply in this country, in fact it’s in abundance. Stephen King describes talent is cheaper than table salt. Think about that…

The key ingredient for success is character. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to have grit, be resilient, determined, patient, positive and hungry to be successful. No amount of talent will ensure success if you do not have these qualities. People like this often add value to a team in many more ways than just on the sport field. They are also the leaders in the change room and the gym and the drivers of team culture.

I can think of no better example than the charismatic captain of the Wits Rugby team, Constant Beckerling who became a YouTube sensation in his time at Wits. He is a fantastic rugby player that was involved in many successful campaigns, but even if he wasn’t he just added so much extra value to the club, wits sport and the university as a hole. He truly made a difference on and off the field.

5. Successful people are not average at practice

The stand out sport performer is also the most impressive at practice. The higher the level of performance the fewer exceptions one get in this regard. Our gym sessions at Wits are all 6:00 in the morning. It’s a tough regime for a student that will have a full day of class in front of them and practice in the evening. Yet the successful ones do not miss a beat. Those athletes that have a “good” excuse every week about why they cannot attend a session will let you down when it matters, I guarantee it! I believe people that are good at making excuses are seldom good for anything else. This philosophy have not let me down in 20 years in the sport industry, but I also know this because of the many times I have bumped my head. The famous line from basketball coach Buzz Williams, “A good coach can help you with your mistakes but NOBODY can help you with your excuses”, come to mind.

Successful people do not turn short of the line and never do fewer repetitions than what is expected of them. In fact they do more. Francois Pienaar‘s “1-more-for-Wahl” became legendary in the RAU gym when I was a student. Wahl Bartmann being the player above him in the Transvaal team at that stage. Another one of his team mates Ian Macdonald also had a legendary work ethic. He told me he always did one more repetition than the rest of the team of everything they did. Years later both his sons played for teams I was involved in and both had the same work ethic as their father. They were impressive on the practice field, best in the gym, best on the rugby field and fantastic students in the classroom.

6. Just enjoy the game!!!

No matter the sport you do just play or participate to enjoy yourself. The moment you try too hard to proof how good you are or impress people your performance suffer as a result. Most people do not handle pressure well and it’s totally unnecessary for you to put more pressure on yourself. Play for whatever team you are selected and approach it the same way you would the biggest game of your life. The more you play the better you will get….. as long as you enjoy yourself.

7. Grow Up!!!

Act and behave like the adult you are. Take accountability for your own life and the responsibilities that goes with it, for the rest of your life. Complete your own documents (do not let your mother do it….), take responsibility to submit them on time and ensure they are complete. If you have a problem, address them yourself. Do not let your parents phone the coach or intervene on your behalf. Do you honestly think you can represent your team, club, university, province or country if you cannot even represent yourself?

8. Making the team is YOUR job

It’s the athlete’s responsibility to make the team. You cannot look for it at the feet of the coach or the manager. No amount of personal dislike will prevent a coach from picking a good player. If you are not selected it’s because the coach or selectors do not have enough faith in you at that stage. Coaches and managers select people they trust. You are the only person that can change that. When the coach selects the weekend’s team they must write down your name first. If they don’t, you have some work to do. Work hard, be positive and make sure you have good habits. Hard work always puts you where good luck can find you…..