Experience trumps athlete career development

Second-year women’s hockey defenceman Alex Rodriguez will soon start work at the Ryerson Rams skate shop. This will add anywhere from five to 15 hours of commitment to a schedule that’s already jam-packed.

“I find you really have to be on top of things,” the 19-year-old said. “I’m still really trying to balance it … I don’t think I’ve gone grocery shopping in a month.”

During a light week when the Rams have home games, Rodriguez estimates she’ll spend five hours working, 25 hours on studies and 16 more on hockey. That’s 46 out of 168 available hours during a seven-day week. On a week with away games, her estimate spikes to 60.

Similarly, fifth-year soccer player Jacob O’Connor estimates he spends up to 80 hours per week on his commitments, including on and off campus jobs, school and sports.

The native of Ottawa is in his final year of business management, specializing in finance. But it didn’t start off that way. O’Connor originally started at Carleton University, not knowing what he wanted to do. Then two of his best friends moved to Toronto and he enrolled in undeclared arts at Ryerson to join them.

“After they left, my habits weren’t the best. I wasn’t that happy in Ottawa,” he said. “It was more to just come and be reunited with two of my close buddies.”

O’Connor finished five out of ten classes in his first year at Ryerson, saying his priorities weren’t in the right place.

“I partied too much,” he said. “I didn’t even know if I was coming back to school at that point, but soccer brought me back.” His second year in Toronto was when things started to turn around. He joined men’s soccer, pumped out straight A’s and made the switch to the business program.

“I don’t regret those experiences,” he said.

O’Connor endured a lot and Rodriguez still has a hill to climb, but when it comes to getting a job after school both athletes say they would benefit from stronger career guidance.

“I’ve anticipated it as far as ‘what job will this major allow me to get?’ just because it’s so broad,” Rodriguez said. “As far as on the daily … I feel like I’m too busy to think about it.”

This dynamic would technically fall under the domain of athletics academic services coordinator Lauren Wilson, but as of now Athletics doesn’t have anything specifically tailored to athletes and career building.

“Unfortunately at this time we haven’t grown enough,” she said. “That’s a direction we would love to go. We would like to add a life skills, career development program.”

In the United States, NCAA schools have entire departments devoted to student athletes and career development. Michigan State University, the University of Delaware, Syracuse University and Vanderbilt University, to name a few, offer athlete-tailored services ranging from harnessing transferable skills, direct employer-athlete connections and network building.

And while Ryerson athletics director Ivan Joseph is familiar with these programs, he says a full on revamp is not necessary. “We’re looking to provide stronger academic support to our varsity athletes, but we’re going to look to our own resources rather than reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Additionally, Wilson says the youth of Ryerson Athletics will make adding similar programming a short-term challenge.

“It takes a lot of man hours and work,” she said.

Though Wincy Li, career consultant at the Ryerson Career Centre, says she would be interested in partnering with Athletics.

“That could be a very collaborative program,” she said. “If any athletes are interested in coming to us, maybe we can collaborate on the event together. That’s certainly something we could work on.”

For now, however, if a student approached Wilson about methods of career preparation, she would refer students to the Career Centre, recommend summer work placements or provide networking-based advice.

“My advice when anyone comes in is the same as anyone else – ‘email some people, ask to go for coffee, get yourself out there,” she said. “Once you learn what you like and make those connections, then you can be more strategic when you’re looking for jobs.”

But as far as transitioning from career student athlete to the professional world goes, Wilson says athletes are already setting themselves apart.

“You’ve found something you’re passionate about, that you did to the highest level through your university (education). If they use all the supports that are here, then I definitely think they have a leg up on many non-athletes,” she said.

And as Li says, student athletes simply need to learn to communicate their endeavors to employers.

“For a lot of student athletes, the one thing that really, really sets them apart is how goal oriented and result-oriented they are,” she said. “These are qualities that a lot of employers search for. The bottom line is how well you articulate your experiences.”

But with an overwhelming schedule, Rodriguez says she would still take advantage of a more convenient, integrated program.

“I think that would come in huge. When I do have those moments asking ‘what am I going to do after,’ yeah, that’s definitely something I would use,” she said.

For O’Connor, he says he appreciates the support he’s received from Athletics, though career support in his early years at Ryerson would have been financially beneficial.

“It would’ve saved me a lot of time and money, but at the same time I’ve really enjoyed my experience and learned a lot through trying different things,” he said.

He says his experiences made his turbulent time at Ryerson worth it.

“(As far as) a guidance thing, that would help but nothing beats the experience of going through hardships and successes,” he said. “And just life, relationships – that’s really how you find out who you are and what you want to be. All the support I’ve gotten has helped me like crazy. So yeah, I’m sure it would be a great thing but experience kind of trumps all.”

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