Helping Athletes Navigate a Short-Term, Shortcut Mindset

Amber Bairdblog, Guest Post, Leadership, Next Level Performance

Repost from Growing Leaders by Tim Elmore

I just spoke at an event for NCAA coaches and staff. During the day, I took part in a conversation about how coaches have changed their approach to recruiting and leading high school athletes, now that the TGIF Generation (Twitter, Google, Instagram and Facebook) has emerged. Coaches face challenges they didn’t have to face fifteen years ago. As a hint, think about what these realities have in common:


  • Many coaches find student-athletes are using human growth hormones in order to differentiate themselves from their peers and get noticed.
  • Many avoid student-athletes whose parents are aggressive, fearing the “helicopter” or “snow-plow” parents will prevent their kid from maturing.
  • Many refuse to recruit student-athletes after reading their Twitter feed, as it reveals they are flippant, crude or thoughtless as they use social media.

What Do These Items Have in Common?

The TGIF generation is filled with student-athletes who think short-term and shortcut. Kids sabotage themselves because they don’t see beyond their own nose, nor think about long-term outcomes for their conduct. When making decisions, they think too much about short-term benefits and not enough about long-term consequences.

Wise coaches know the best place to really identify the nature of a student-athlete is to note what they post on social media. Even smart kids will do dumb things for the sake of getting noticed. What they fail to realize is—they may get noticed by coaches, not just peers. On many recruiting forms today, colleges ask for students’ social media account names or addresses. When this happens in high school, it can sabotage a college scholarship. When it happens in college, it can sabotage how high a player gets drafted. Good advice to student athletes: “Pause Before You Post.” Brandon Chambers at Marymount University tells athletes, “Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship.”

Truth be told, social media is here to stay, so we’ve got to equip student-athletes to navigate it and leverage it for positive outcomes. ESPN reports 75% of student-athletes use Twitter, a 241% jump in one year. Sadly, many teens have used it as a platform to complain about playing time, bicker with a teammate, or trash-talk an opponent in a very cowardly way. All they can see is today. We have to help them change that mindset.

The Bigger Picture

Social media is just a symptom of a culture that conditions kids to think short-term. Another symptom is PED’s. It was two years ago that Lance Armstrong admitted to taking Performance Enhancing Drugs. He is now the poster-child for what’s wrong with this mindset. Armstrong lost $75 million and his reputation… taking shortcuts. In every event I mention his name, I never find anyone who likes him. At the same time, a stunning 11% of high school student athletes admit to using human growth hormone, based on a study from the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. (Less than 1% of Olympians use them). PED abuse among teens is epidemic (and this is only the number of students who admit to it). They are obviously not thinking about the long-term outcomes. Once again, all they can see is today.

Speaking of long-term outcomes, young athletes failing to manage money is yet another symptom. When scholarships transform into salaries at the pro level, why is it that so many athletes have no intuition about saving, spending or investing money well? How come it is rare that these young men and women fail to have much money once they’re done playing their sport? Check out the numbers:

  • 60% of NBA players are broke within five years of retiring from the game.
  • 78% of NFL players go bankrupt or end up facing serious financial stress within two years of ending their playing careers.

What Must We Do to Help Them?

So how do we address this short-term, shortcut mindset in student-athletes? Let me suggest three mindsets we must teach our athletes to embrace. More specifically, we need to teach them to:

  1. Think Bigger
    We must enable student-athletes to think bigger than their performance in a single sport. While this focus appears helpful at first, it eventually fosters an unhealthy, under-developed, and potentially immature student-athlete. Many coaches choose to recruit student-athletes who play multiple sports in high school because they seem to be more emotionally healthy and well rounded.
  1. Think Before
    Next, we must condition athletes to think ahead and see potential outcomes before they arrive. This prevents so many crises and enables them to prepare for a tough future. This is leadership. I often tell athletes: the more you can see ahead, the better you can prevent damage. In other words, the better we get at previewing, the better we’ll be at preparing.
  1. Think Beyond
    Finally, we must equip student-athletes to see beyond the scope of their current, personal reality. Leaders gain influence by being able to see more than others can see; they have perspective because they see all angles of an issue, both on and off the field. I tell athletes: the further out you can see, the better your decisions are today.

One more thought. Before you work on the short-term, shortcut thinking in your athletes—how are you avoiding this mindset?

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