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High anxiety for rookies

Even if you make the team, the stress is just beginning. Jack Bechta

Print This September 10, 2009, 11:10 AM EST

I’ve always believed that life comes down to defining moments.

This philosophy especially holds true for NFL players when it comes to making a team. It could be one play, some supporting words from a position coach in a personnel meeting or an injury to another player that provides an opportunity to play in the NFL.

Imagine coming out of college as an accounting major at the naive age of 22 and being drafted by a firm in one of 32 major cities. Graduates from some Ivy League schools get big bonuses to work for prestigious east coast firms and most likely will have job security for the next three or four years. The rest have to spend their summer competing with each other and veteran CPAs to land one of the finite number of jobs at a minimum salary. They have grueling days of test taking, four role-playing skits and a chance to perform their skills with and against the veterans. Then, in a defining moment, the partners post a list on the wall at the end of the summer with the names of those who will be accountants for at least another year and possibly have careers.

If your name is not on the list, you hope another firm doesn’t like the graduates that it drafted and will give you a call. However, tax season is starting and there isn’t much time. There are eight intern jobs for each team, and you hope to land one of them. The pay is just enough to cover your living expenses.

I don’t think any of us can fully understand the anxiety caused by the NFL’s process for making a team. It is, at minimum, a very stressful time for the young men who are trying to fulfill their individual dreams of working on Sundays and making their passion a career. For those who had their dreams cut short last Saturday, some will rise from the ashes and find their way back into the mix. It may take a year or two like it did for Mat McBriar, Al Harris or Kelly Gregg, but some will make it. The rest will hang on for a few years going to tryouts, signing with the UFL or making a pilgrimage to Canada. The rest eventually will have to be like the rest of us and jump into the work force and commute to the plant, get a sales job at Dunder-Mifflin or start processing TPS reports in their cubicle.

For those who get to extend their dream, the anxiety is not over yet. At the tender age of 22 or 23, they still have to decide on a number of things: Where do I live in a city I’m unfamiliar with? Should I buy, lease or rent? Do I buy a new car or get a used one? Should I get a roommate? What kind of rental, car and life insurance should I get? Whom do I get to find it for me? Should I have my girlfriend come live with me? Should I have my dog shipped out? Do I buy or rent furniture? How should I invest my money, and whom should I trust with it?

These are a lot of grown-up decisions that most us get to make over time. In the NFL, the head coach usually gives rookies a day and half to get settled and work out these personal decisions. No wonder these guys make some bad decision early on. A good agent and financial consultant, along with the guidance of a team player development person, can help the transition, but it doesn’t entirely reduce the anxiety resting on the shoulders of these young men.

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