September 6, 2016

How to empower student athletes to lead their communities

Game Plan turns locker room leaders into local leaders

Game Plan empowers student athletes to be community leaders. Photo courtesy of MasterWilliams

Growing up in Hyattsville, Maryland, a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., my life revolved around sports. Spring and summer was track season, fall was football, winter was basketball. I looked forward to the fall the most because football was my favorite sport. Even though I was, and still am, a diehard Washington Redskins fan, my favorite football player was Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. I wanted to be just like him. I wore the number 20 just like him and tried to emulate his moves. At 10 years old, I had my life all planned out. I would play running back for Florida State University, my favorite college football team at the time, then play in the NFL and make millions of dollars.

After fracturing my knee in 6th grade and then fracturing my ankle two years later, I began to rethink my football aspirations. I was devastated at the time, but those injuries were a blessing in disguise. At 14, I realized I had to have other goals and think about other careers because the NFL was not a guarantee. I could get injured again and never be able to play the game I loved.

My new goal was to use my athletic abilities to receive a free college education. I was able to do just that by securing a full athletic scholarship to George Mason University to run track. Unfortunately, many of my former teammates and rivals did not have the same mindset as me. Sports defined who they were, so when their athletic careers ended, they were lost.

These athletes never developed professionally. They never learned how to create a resume. No one taught them how to ace a job interview. They never considered the possibility of not making it pro. They never crafted a Plan B.

They believed, and were maybe even told by others, that they did not need school because they would be millionaires one day catching a football or shooting a basketball. School was only necessary to participate in sports, so they did the bare minimum in their classes just to be eligible to play. Coaches and teachers let them skate by.

But what about the skills they did have? A strong work ethic, a competitive spirit, a thick skin. They knew how to handle defeat. They were great leaders. Those attributes transfer to the workplace. What if they realized that they couldn’t play sports forever, so they needed to be more serious about school? What if they could have gained work experience and been introduced to different careers while in school? What if they cared more about investing and stocks over their potential draft stocks? What if someone would have spoken to them about these things? How much different would their lives be?

Game Plan and S.O.C.K.S. (So Others Can Keep Striding) volunteers in front of the White House after donating more than 300 pairs of socks to the homeless in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Dayo Kosoko/The Art Hype

These students learn they are more than just athletes. They are leaders in the locker room, classroom, and in their communities.

Student athletes need programs to prepare them for the moment when the game clock hits 00:00 and the crowd no longer chants their names. They also need to learn how to capitalize from their experiences as athletes.

That’s why I started Game Plan.

Game Plan assists student athletes with strategies to be 1st place on and off the field by providing programming in personal development, leadership, athletic excellence, college prep, and entrepreneurship training through community service. Serving as an extension to a school’s athletic department, we partner with athletic directors, coaches, and the athletes themselves to develop impactful workshops throughout the school year.

While many of their peers only strive to make an impact on the field or on the court, our youth want to impact the lives of others. These students learn they are more than just athletes. They are leaders in the locker room, classroom, and in their communities. Like Jalen Carter, a Junior defensive end and tight end at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, who collected more than 250 pairs of socks from his friends, teammates, and church members to serve the homeless of Washington through a partnership Game Plan has with S.O.C.K.S (So Others Can Keep Striding), a local nonprofit that collects and delivers socks to the homeless. Witnessing so many homeless people in D.C. opened his eyes and made him more appreciative. He said it “feels good to make a difference for others” and hopes his efforts inspire others to want to make a difference.

This school year, we will be in 10 schools from Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, inspiring roughly 5,000 student athletes. By the 2020-2021 school year, our goal is to be in 50 schools nationwide, inspiring countless student athletes.

Top photo courtesy of MasterWilliams

Sam Sesay

Founder and President of Game Plan, Inc.

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