Student-athletes level up at Career in Sports Forum –

Media Center Justin Whitaker
Instead of collecting golden stars or coins like some popular video game characters, the Career in Sports Forum gave 200 student-athletes an immersive opportunity to “level up” through a multitude of networking, inspirational speakers, informative career advice and more from current professionals in the pro sports and collegiate athletics world.
Built around common video game tropes, the theme for the 2023 Career in Sports Forum was “The Pursuit of Purpose.” Programming during each of the four days was a different level, broken into concepts such as “Choose Your Character,” “Choose Your Playing Field,” “Embrace the Challenge” and “Trust Your Process.” 
The forum, held Thursday through Sunday at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis, highlighted potential career paths in sports and emphasized the attendees’ professional and personal development.
“As a former student-athlete myself, I know navigating the job market may seem overwhelming and intimidating, especially when transitioning into life after graduating,” said Ashley Jocelyn, assistant director of leadership development at the NCAA. “So this year, we wanted help with cultivating a space for the learners to find a career in sports in a fun and enjoyable way. Hopefully, they can refer back to this concept when venturing through their career journey.”
Attendees participated in industry-specific breakouts and personal development sessions and heard from keynote speakers, including sessions from Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the Ole Miss women’s basketball coach, and Lacee Carmon-Johnson, manager of basketball advancement for the Toronto Raptors.
Marcello Delvalle, a men’s soccer student-athlete from the University of Saint Joseph (Connecticut), appreciated the speakers’ messages. 
“A lot of the speakers said that you don’t have to change who you are,” said Delvalle, who is interested in pursuing a career in athletics in operations, promotions or hospitality. “You can walk into a room, be yourself and still be the brightest light in the room.”
Participants were placed on five color teams to provide opportunities for closer networking and to facilitate and encourage active participation. The red, purple, orange, pink and green team rooms were designed around the team color with balloons, lighting and other decorations.
Mount Holyoke rowing student-athlete Jocelyn Greer appreciated that the smaller groups gave the individuals a support net and created a team environment. 
“Everyone I have met has been so open to conversation and wanting to support each other,” said Greer, who is undetermined about a possible career in sports. “Also, it’s really nice to have a more intimate group to talk about our personal situations, strengths and places we want to grow.”
One of the biggest takeaways that Greer will implement immediately is advice from a color team session thatfocused on encouraging authentic networking to build genuine connections. The instructor asked the class not to focus on important titles but to encourage connections among fellow student-athletes. 
“I’ve gotten every job I’ve ever got because of knowing somebody,” the team leader said.
Attendees channeled their experience as student-athletes to discover their transferable skills regarding career development, self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork and technology.
Southwestern Oklahoma State football student-athlete Logan Engle thought he wanted to work in sports but wasn’t sure where or how. The transferable skills conversation helped Engle realize his strengths and think of other avenues besides coaching. He had a conversation with an NCAA staff member who helps run championship events, and it captured his interest in the operations work of putting on a large event.
A self-described introvert, Engle challenged himself to make the most of this opportunity.
“For the introverted people, it was good because this was pushing you in that direction to be interactive,” Engle said. “You aren’t going to grow, learn or understand if you don’t reach out to people.”
Austin Peay football student-athlete Sam Howard found inspiration from colleagues at the event. He loved the atmosphere and environment of like-minded people motivating one another.
“It’s free. Everyone has the same feel, and everyone is trying to achieve the same goal,” said Howard, the Accelerating Academic Success Program Career Development Award winner. “Everyone is inspired to do things to help the community and help the next generations to come. It’s easy to relate to others, and it’s so comfortable here. It’s an amazing experience.”
Jamie Skarupsky, a women’s soccer student-athlete from Murray State, used the forum as an opportunity to reaffirm a career interest in sports broadcasting. Skarupsky came prepared with business cards with a QR code that directed others to her own digital company, Melanin Athletes.
She entered the Career in Sports Forum admittedly nervous and a little hesitant but left excited and eager to enter the workforce with a goal and passion to support minority athletes. Her four days were transformational, and she couldn’t recommend the experience enough.
“If there’s any advice I could give anyone who is looking to go into sports, go to this forum if you can,” Skarupsky said. “There’s great speakers and people you can connect with. You’re making lifelong friends, mentors and connections.” 
In the final session of the event, keynote motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles delivered an impactful speech on “The Power of Connection.”
Sprinkles advocated for the attendees to “resist the urge to think small.” A ballroom full of 200 student-athletes frantically scribbled down his advice, showing no fatigue from a jampacked four days. It was another moment of inspiration in an event filled with them.
Sprinkles ended the forum with a final statement, “You are born an original. Don’t live like a copy.”
The attendees again put pen to paper to capture the words of wisdom.  Now it’s time for them to put them to use.

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