NFL Pro-Turned-Educator On Helping Student Athletes Reach Their Full Potential

NFL Pro-Turned-Educator on Helping Student Athletes Reach Their Full Potential

Receive stories like these directly delivered to your email inbox. Subscribe to Newsletter.

Distinguished student athletes often receive an abundance of recognition for their physical abilities, causing their academic and personal aspects to be overshadowed. Consequently, no matter how successful they become in their respective sports, they may never reach their full potential.

Let me clarify, being acknowledged for exceptional skills on the field or court is undoubtedly fantastic. As a former NFL player, I understand the satisfaction that comes with it. However, as an educator, I am also aware that student athletes require assistance in recognizing that they possess more than just athletic talent. With a majority (57%) of high school students participating in sports teams, numerous students across the nation need to feel supported.

For me, sports served as a powerful coping mechanism during a challenging childhood within the foster care system. While I received recognition as a football player in school, it was not until my junior year of high school that I realized sports provided me with the opportunity to attend college. It was at this point that I began to understand there might be more to life than football, and perhaps there was more to me than being an athlete.

This realization deepened throughout my four years at the University of Minnesota, where I made education a priority and achieved a 3.9 GPA after my second quarter as a freshman. Following college, I enjoyed a successful six-year career as a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns before transitioning into education. I initially served as a high school dean of students and later became principal of Osseo Senior High School in Minnesota. In 2020, I was honored with the title of Minnesota High School Principal of the Year, which remains one of my most significant accomplishments to date. Subsequently, I assumed the role of assistant superintendent at Osseo Area Schools.

Today, I hold the position of head of school at IMG Academy, a renowned institution for sports, performance, and education. This role has provided me with firsthand insight into the intersection of sports and academics for elite student athletes. As a result, I firmly believe that educators must strive to support the holistic potential of young athletes and celebrate the innate brilliance they may not even realize they possess.

It is easy to forget the needs of the "whole person" when dealing with high-performance sports, as so much attention is directed towards a young athlete’s physical abilities. Nevertheless, every student athlete deserves comprehensive support, regardless of their chosen sport or performance level.

For student athletes, it can be challenging to look beyond the one thing they are most passionate about—their sport—when a significant portion of their time, energy, and identity is intertwined with athletics. Parents, coaches, teachers, and mentors can assist by asking three fundamental questions: "Who are you, truly?" "What do you believe in?" and "How do you determine your values?"

These questions not only help broaden young individuals’ perceptions of themselves but also enable them to define what truly matters to them in life, beyond their involvement in sports. Additionally, these inquiries emphasize the significance of identifying and staying true to one’s core values, regardless of external influences.

Admittedly, answering these questions is not easy, and neither is asking them. It is crucial to persist and ask multiple times to elicit responses that delve deeper than surface-level answers such as, "I am an athlete. I play this position." However, by persevering, we uncover valuable insights into the direction students are heading.

Adults can support student athletes in delving deep for answers by considering these suggestions:

1. Cultivate an environment that encourages self-reflection and introspection.

2. Foster open and honest communication, allowing students to express their thoughts and feelings.

3. Provide guidance and support in exploring personal values and beliefs.

4. Encourage students to seek meaningful connections and pursue interests beyond their sport.

5. Empower students to make decisions based on their values, even if they differ from societal expectations.

6. Foster resilience and the ability to adapt to challenges both on and off the field.

By implementing these suggestions, we can facilitate the development of well-rounded student athletes who are not only successful in their athletic endeavors but also confident and fulfilled individuals in all aspects of life.

Exceptionally skilled student athletes deserve the utmost support, guidance, and access to valuable resources in order to fully utilize their talents and capabilities. It is also crucial for them to establish a solid foundation for personal growth by engaging in enriching hands-on learning experiences like internships and volunteer opportunities, receiving relevant instruction, and acquiring transferable life skills.

By providing these opportunities, we can ensure that when these individuals transition to college or their chosen careers, they will have been exposed to various pathways to success. Moreover, taking a holistic approach, they will have developed the necessary values to thrive and persevere in the larger realm of life.

Never miss inspiring stories like these. Subscribe to Newsletter and have them delivered straight to your inbox.


  • owengriffiths

    Owen Griffiths is 35 years old and a blogger and teacher. He has written about education for over 10 years and has a passion for helping others learn.