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Career Training Camp: Are You Prepared for Your Next Season?

Try this strategy to be a starter on the winning team in your industry

(Image: Thinkstock)

I love sports, but not for the same reason most enthusiasts do. I grew up with many men in my family—from my older brother to cousins and uncles—and when it’s time for any season to start, there’s always excitement, good food and family gatherings involved. Even my Granny is on board, rooting for her favorite players and making everybody believe she’s more like a 20-something tailgater than a senior citizen.

This week, NFL players are in full swing at training camp, and by July 27 all teams will be busy evaluating players and prepping to get the top spot in the league come Super Bowl.

As players get into rigorous exercises and testing, it’s only natural for me to think, in terms of career, how professionals can take a page from the NFL and conduct their own professional training camp that will allow them to evaluate whether they’re prepared for their next season.

Coaches often have to make hard choices to accommodate the needs of the bigger picture. They answer to players, owners, fans and their own desire to excel. In some cases, as a professional or entrepreneur, you’re the coach and the player. In others, your boss is that coach, evaluating whether you’re a key member of the team or someone who might lead to more losses than wins. Either way, we all have bottom lines to consider, and as a leader, one should be advancing, not regressing.

Are you prepared to excel in the next phase of your career? Do you have the right people around you to take you to the top of your field? Do people, things, habits need to be cut or modified for you to go to the next level professionally? Are you pushing yourself to the best of your abilities? What’s your game plan?

If you’re a bit lost on where to start, try similar steps as the NFL:

Scrimmages and training drills: As a professional, are you constantly exercising ways to use problem-solving, management or leadership skills? You can do this by looking into case studies and figuring out ways you’d approach various issues based on your industry. You can also do this via training courses, support groups or professional workshops that allow you to be tested at what you do.

Another great way to do this is to volunteer to take on a project and test out strategies of getting the job done. Play games that enrich and challenge your brain. Take on secondary projects that may not have that large make-it-or-break-it factor, where you can take risks and push yourself to the limit.

Meetings with coaches and senior players: Take the time to get on your boss’ calendar to talk about your strengths and weaknesses, the same way players meet with coaches to evaluate where they stand. Also, meet with industry leaders or mentors to get insight into your professional skills and plans for the future. Get insight on how you improve or position yourself for advancement. It’s great to get professional coaching or even advice from a senior level power player who holds a post you aspire to hold. Who knows better how to get to the top than someone who’s been there and done that?

Evaluation of your peers: Coaches often look at stats and compare players in order to make a decision on whether they’d be a key asset to the team. You have to do the same. Be aware of peers in your industry who are excelling—or even flopping. Know who’s who and why they’re so great or have influence. Be conscious of where you stand in the grand scheme of things and how competitive your skills and value are to the market. Healthy competition is normal and actually vital in the business world. If you’re lacking or slacking any way, find ways to upgrade your skills and fight for your place on the starting team.

Elimination of weak links: During training camp, there are cuts and losses. Some players end up disappointed and on the bench. Sometimes it’s due to injury, bad timing or not being at their best. For you as a professional, this could mean facing truths and making some hard decisions. Are you performing at 100%? Are your peers enriching your life or helping you see success? Is your professional advisory team up to date or able to be taken to the next level with you? If not, reevaluate or bench them.

Participation in enrichment: During training camp, many players get the chance to participate in OTAs (organized team activities) well before training camp. Many enthusiasts know this is prime time to network and relate with other players via team-related, social activities. It’s also a prime time when rookies are the focus, as coaches and media watch for breakout stars.

You can do the same within your industry peers or coworkers. Get involved with a social project at work or organize a happy hour within your department. Find ways to interact with and relate to your peers outside of that looming deadline. If you’re new to the job or this is your first post-grad gig, be aware of “seasons” at your job where it’s time to show and prove. Coordinate your skill-building and positioning accordingly, where you’re in the right place at the right time to shine.

What’s your professional game plan for next season? #Soundoff and follow Janell on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

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