Student Athlete Career Readiness: Howard University Athletic Director Talks Advocacy

Louis “Skip" Perkins details how undergrads can prep for employment

For many years there has been a universal stereotype that the majority of collegiate athletes place athletic success ahead of student success. Let’s be honest. We want to see our favorite teams win, and when fans talk college sports, team rankings are at the heart of the conversation. Depending on placement in weekly polls, a fan’s favorite team can be a source of pride or controversy. The one ranking that gets far less attention by media, and fans alike is the one that compares how teams stack up against each other in the classroom. Amid all of the controversy around paying college athletes to compete in intercollegiate athletics, one thing will still remain. Athletes and athletic departments have to make the grade.

To keep NCAA member schools and teams accountable, statistics are kept on the performance of all of its student-athletes. The Academic Progress Rate (APR) and the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) is the method used to keep schools and teams accountable. Combining the statistics from the two reports allows the NCAA to measure how well a particular school and its student-athletes are performing in the classroom. When a school or team fails to meet the standards set by the NCAA penalties are enforced in various ways.

There has undoubtedly been progress with four-year graduation rates hitting 81%, but there is still a gap between African American student-athletes and their white counterparts. Key findings for Bowl Bound college football teams and men’s and women’s basketball are available through The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), which is part of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration.

I stopped by to speak with Howard University athletic director, Louis “Skip” Perkins, to discuss student-athlete career readiness and how athletes can prepare themselves for post playing career success.

BlackEnterprise.com: What steps need to be taken or are being taken to ensure that student-athletes place emphasis on the student part of student-athlete ?

The most important piece and biggest strength has come from the top down. The NCAA has academic progress rates and graduation success rates which require athletic departments to graduate student athletes at a specific percentage. Mixed in that formula with graduating student athletes is retention and eligibility. Coaches are held even more accountable and must be more aware of the student-athletes they are recruiting. Penalties exist regarding scholarships, and post season play that institutions can be striped of if academic and graduation rates are not met.

With coaches earning largely off of wins and post season success, how do student-athletes and coaches balance athletic readiness with career readiness?

There is only so much time a coach can spend with a student-athlete. There are rules administered by the NCAA that regulate this. Only so much time can be spent in the weight room, on the field, and watching film with athletes. The flip side to this is that there is absolutely no time limit enforced by the NCAA or athletics departments that limit the amount of time a student-athlete can spend with tutors, academic advisors, or professors. Unlimited time is available for student-athletes to take advantage of the resources to succeed academically. If you as a coach are not stressing academic success, ultimately you face the chance of having ineligible players that could and should be contributing to the success of the program. Also as a student-athlete taking advantage of academic support and tutors where needed is critical. This shows coaches, administration and faculty the willingness to be a well-rounded athlete.

How do we position student-athletes for career success?

It begins with the head coach and the recruiting process. Coaches as leaders need to impress upon their teams and individual athletes that academics are a priority. All freshman and all students-athletes tracking at or below a certain GPA must attend mandatory study halls. Mandatory workshops and seminars are provided about career planning and readiness. We have to make sure our coaches and support staff are implementing the procedures that we put in place. There is a high level of responsibility that sits with us. In the same way our student-athletes are accountable for their academic requirements we are accountable to student-athlete success. I emphasize to our coaches not to chase wins, remember what you are here for. Part of your job is absolutely to win, but academic success is critical for athletic department existence. We hold coaches accountable and there have to be ramifications for coaches and staff.

What makes student-athletes attractive to future employers?

Being able to work under pressure and manage multiple projects at the same time at a high level. Being able to stay on schedule. Juggling classes, practice, studying, preparing for games, and maintaining a social life is tough. Student-athletes are performing for multiple people on campus including professors, academic advisors, and coaches. Employers and recruiters come on campus and one of the first things they ask is, “Who are your better performing student-athletes.” They want to see people that have the ability to have a balance, and oftentimes student-athletes are displaying this. Other attractive attributes are performing in a hostile environment, being the focus of attention, and being able to work with a team of people.

What are three pieces of advice you can provide to student-athletes as they prepare to enter the workforce?

  1. Time Management – Be on time, be organized, and be present. It is as simple as that.
  1. Develop Your Communication Skills – Be able to communicate and work with everyone. There is a right and a wrong way to communicate with people in various situations. Understand what approach to use for the specific situation you are in.
  1. Diligent work ethic – No matter what your first job is be the best at it. Don’t settle for just punching the clock from 9-5. Do something that sets you apart from everyone else you are working with, and continuously learn. Explore the areas that surround your job function and keep your eyes wide open. Ask questions to become more knowledgable about company strategies and how one department plays a role in the success of another department within the organization. Find a mentor within the organization that is in the role that you ultimately want to be in, and learn as much as you can.

Daron Pressley (@daronpressley) is an entrepreneur and former Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive who has been featured on outlets including Fox45 News, Black Enterprise magazine, and The Washington Post. Knowledgeable in marketing and branding, Pressley works with professional athletes, organizations, and individuals to develop strategies to create, build, and grow brands. As a speaker Daron has reached over 20,000 students, and provides dynamic insights on leadership and branding via his Website, DaronPressley.com.

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