5 Toughest Challenges for Rookies

1) Saying “No”: The hardest thing for any young pro athlete to do is say the word “No”. The requests will come from every direction.

In-season: Appearance requests, friends/family wanting to come in for every home game (also wanting to know if they can stay with him or where they should stay), tickets, errands for vets, autographed memorabilia, charitable appearances/donations, interviews (TV, Radio, digital, newspaper), loans, make an investment, pitch from professional services (financial consultants, insurance agents, accountants, endorsement agencies), being sold on a brand new expensive car, a good clothes and jewelry salesperson, long expensive dinners with vet teammates, and a lot of other miscellaneous requests.

Off-season: Most of what is on the in-season list but add these: Weddings, bachelor parties, football camps, drinking (everybody wants to hang with a pro athlete), come speak to our team/class, even more charitable events and spending time with friends and family.

I’m not saying a rookie should say “no” to everything listed above. However, if he is not selective on what he does say “yes” to, he will burn through time, money and energy and it will effect his performance, emotional stability, and bank account.

2) Maintaining healthy eating/nutrition habits: Many draftees learn great nutrition habits when they are training for the Combine. Many teams offer structured meals and guidance in the off-season during mini-camps and OTA's. However, once the season starts, the structured regimens go out the window.

Rookies can easily spend twelve hours a day for five days a week at the team facility. While some meals like lunch are provided, players find themselves starving on the way back and forth from the facility. Driving while in a hurry (for fear of being fined for being late) usually equates to stopping for fast food through a drive-through.

One thing I encourage my players to do is to spend money on having quality food around. Whether it’s having pre-cooked meals delivered to their house, shopping at Whole Foods and/or having a chef stop by a few times a week, don’t skimp when it comes to getting quality nutrition.

3) Paperwork/staying organized: Becoming a professional athlete also comes with responsibility. You have a lot of money coming in all of the sudden, and you need a good CPA, you most likely have a financial consultant at the age of 22, and you have the same amount of bills and general paperwork as someone who is 32. When the mail starts piling up into huge bundles, young men get overwhelmed and let the piles grow while they focus on learning a playbook and contributing to the team.

4) Reporting injuries: You don’t make it to the NFL without having some level of toughness. Football players are taught from a young age to play with pain, fight through injuries, be tough, act tough and don’t complain when they get hurt. The problem is that they carry it through to the pro level and are hesitant to report injuries. My biggest frustration as an agent and also my biggest challenge is to coach players through properly managing injuries.

Many players (about twenty to thirty per team) who are at risk of being cut are especially fearful of disclosing injuries because they fear it can lead to them being demoted or cut. I had a starting AFC linebacker finally call me about a foot injury he said he couldn’t play on anymore. I called the trainer and my team contact and requested they shut him down and put him on injured reserve. A few hours after my call his coaches were at his locker begging him to play the rest of the season (5 games). Being the tough young man he is he couldn’t say “no” and took some pain shots and played. Nursing the foot led to a knee injury and two eventual operations on the foot and the knee.

5) Asking questions/asking for help: This may be true for most young people in many professions but it’s prevalent in the NFL. Some teams set up a learning environment for players where they are encouraged to ask questions and use the team resources to get their problems solved. Unfortunately, rookies feel they should operate with a sense of self-sufficiency as to not bother anyone. They don’t want to be made fun of by teammates for asking what may be an embarrassing question. They also feel like a man because of all the attention they have already received. When they do ask a question, it’s most likely a whisper to a veteran teammate who may or usually may not have a qualified answer.

On the football side, practices, meetings, camps, and team activities move extremely fast. Rookies are intimidated to be the one to stop things and ask a question, which can break the momentum of the team activity. Additionally, each team has what’s called a Player Development Director whose job it is to get rookies stable and acclimated to their new job and environment. They too are frustrated that the players don’t come to them for help. As one put it to me, “its just the way they are programmed.”

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