You are here

Career in Sports Forum continues with virtual opportunities

Leadership development shifts to virtual format in program’s 10th year

It’s been 10 years since the first NCAA Career in Sports Forum, but Matt Goff remembers it like it was yesterday.

Goff, a former football player at James Madison and now associate director of major gifts at Virginia Tech, has carried plenty with him from the inaugural Career in Sports Forum in 2010 in Indianapolis.

He made connections and friendships there that remain. He took his first DISC assessment at the event, learned he was an “I” for “influential” and how to work successfully with other personality types. He still uses an icebreaker from the 2010 forum in professional settings. He’s even experienced the Career in Sports Forum numerous times since then, once as a postgraduate intern for the NCAA and several other years as a speaker or facilitator.

“It was such an incredible experience,” Goff said of the first Career in Sports Forum. “You went through this entire process together, learned a lot about each other, learned a lot about yourself and really how to strengthen your strengths and improve your weaknesses, and how to interact with people who are different than you.”

Reginald Thomas can relate. He also attended the first Career in Sports Forum. At the time, he was a senior football player at Division II Clark Atlanta transitioning into a graduate assistant coaching role for his alma mater. Now, he’s senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development at Bethune-Cookman.

The Career in Sports Forum, he said, is a big reason why.

“That really laid the foundation and the groundwork to be where I’m at now,”  said Thomas, who listed reasons that mirrored Goff’s. “I definitely can attribute that program for being the launchpad.”

Goff and Thomas are two of many examples of the potential impact the forum can have on student-athletes. Their reflections underlie why, when the COVID-19 outbreak forced the NCAA’s leadership development staff to reevaluate how to move forward with programming, the Career in Sports Forum remained a priority.

While all in-person leadership development programs were canceled through June 30, the Career in Sports Forum shifted to a virtual format. It will be held Wednesday to Friday, with nearly 400 junior and senior student-athletes invited. That’s roughly double the usual number of student-athletes brought into the in-person forum.

Clyde Doughty Jr., athletics director at Bowie State, loves to hear about the increased opportunities this year’s forum offers. He has served as the Career in Sports Forum’s emcee every year and has seen hundreds of student-athletes like Goff and Thomas leave the forum more prepared for their future. He said he has stayed in touch with several of them and still hears how impactful the program was for them.

The forum’s evolution to a virtual format, Doughty said, will only increase those experiences.

“Out of every pain comes gain. We are in this process right now with COVID-19, which can help expose ourselves to things that we would have never thought about before,” Doughty said. “This goes to show you what we can do to support a greater number of individuals who want to be part of this program. Prior to this year, we had all these applications, but we narrowed it down because we could only accommodate so many.”

Like Doughty’s role as emcee, much of the forum’s structure will remain the same, though there are some new elements. 

More than 20 professionals in various roles in sports will present on topics including how student-athletes can become more aware of their inner strengths, how to develop a career plan, practical approaches to a job search, how to navigate as a young professional in the athletics industry, the role of an athletics administrator and head coach, and other motivational and key messaging. The speakers include employees of NCAA member schools, professional leagues like the NBA and NFL, NCAA leadership, and the media.

These forum sessions give student-athletes a peek behind the curtain of several careers within sports. Student-athletes can gain a deeper understanding of roles within the athletics industry and how their personal and professional interests align with potential career paths. 

Djavon Dupree is one of those student-athletes. A senior women’s soccer player at Temple, she’s interested in a sports marketing career.

“It’s crunch time. I want to get as much information, build a plan, meet new people, network,” Dupree said. “It’s just a no-brainer to sign up for this opportunity.”

The forum also helps student-athletes learn more about themselves as leaders by exposing them to projects that require critical thinking, as well as practical experiences that will strengthen their personal and professional skills and competencies. Part of this effort will be accomplished through the forum’s new auxiliary groups.

One of those groups is a student-athlete task force composed of seven attendees. They used their experiences and perspectives to help plan three of the forum topics. The task force decided a forum session covering identity beyond sport was important.

“When you ask an athlete, ‘Who are you besides your name?’ A lot of times their first response is, ‘I’m a baseball player, a softball player.’ They find their identity in that. I think a lot of athletes struggle with separating from their sport after they’ve played for so many years,” said Emma Maubach, a former swimmer who recently graduated from Anderson (Indiana). She served on the task force with Dupree and five other student-athletes. “The main idea we came up with was how to be confident in the skills you have and apply them to your career.”

The new auxiliary programs also include a resume development opportunity, in which certain student-athletes at the forum will receive detailed feedback on their resumes from athletic professionals who volunteered to help. Another addition is a yearlong mentor program that connects select senior student-athletes attending the forum with professionals matched to the mentee’s interests and career goals.

Some student-athletes also will participate in an “overtime project” after the forum, where they will use knowledge gained during the event to further explore a specific role. Other selected student-athletes will take part in a case study that they will present on at the forum. All the attendees will have opportunities to interact in breakout sessions where they will engage in guided discussions to further curriculum understanding and build community with other student-athletes.

If their experience is anything like Thomas’ and Goff’s, those discussions will continue well beyond the three-day event, too.

“It got me out of my comfort zone to interact with other people on a regular basis that I wouldn’t otherwise,” Thomas said. “It taught me the importance of networking, because some of those same people I’m still in contact with today.”