Memoir of an Athlete, Brandon Ballard, Part Two

The Sophomore Year 

The sophomore year, a time I believe regular students begin their collegiate manifest is the time student-athletes should start forming their plan of what is going to happen to them after they receive their degree.” I had a good GPA, and enough connections to join the Fraternity & Sorority Life going through the initiation process for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., expanding my network to like-minded individuals that had major career ambitions, preached service, and scholarship. Although the frat was enriching, it wasn’t a solution to my particular needs.

After going through an up and down matriculation as an undergraduate student-athlete not fully committing to what I wanted to do.  I found myself having to make a tough decision between academics and athletics.  I was a nursing major who was applying for the nursing program but failed to get accepted because my GPA was a 3.23 when the program required a minimum 3.25 GPA for consideration. You had to be excellent in your science classes, and I simply was not.

Eligibility is a huge part of the NCAA system that influences student-athletes’ experiences participating on the field of competition as well as in the classroom. Unfortunately for me, all of my credits were towards the nursing program that just declined me. I had to make the decision to either switch my major to a degree outside of health and sit a whole year out from competing.  Or make the credits already achieved through the nursing track work in another health related major to continue participating in sport, so I chose to leave the nursing dream and major in Health Services Administration.

Activity restriction for changing majors is one of the many problems non-student athletes never encounter because they are not governed by NCAA legislation nor is there a rule that prevents or punishes non-student athletes from changing majors. I chose the best financial and athletic choice for me at that time because I wasn’t on a full scholarship and did not want to sit out a year because of academics. That was the first time I chose athletics, money and time over my education. I was in a major I didn’t like and had to find some way to use it for my post-graduation development.

The Junior Year 

The first week of my junior year, I informed the Vice President of the Student-Athlete Leadership Council (SALC), my teammate, Marcus Ghent, and the Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, Liz Augustin, that I wanted to step up and play a bigger role in SALC. It only took me reaching out to these people in power to ignite my drive once again. I was in SALC helping athletes and a team captain now for my team. The (SALC) is a group of the elected team leaders that provide student-athletes an avenue to enhance their leadership skills both on and off the field.  The council provides student-athletes opportunities to have their voice heard and offered input on the rules, regulations, and policies that affect student-athletes’ on NCAA member institution campuses. It was during this time I decided on a career in this realm of athletics but did not know how to nor did I actively do any research into the industry I desired to enter.  I spent a large part of this year wondering and trying to decide what was to be my passion outside of athletics and while actively participating in the SALC, I was still unsure of any direction I would venture into after my athletic eligibility would expire.

The Transition and My Senior Year 

During my senior year I was awarded an internship with Athlete Network my duties included spreading the companies brand and services provided to fellow athletes offering them a “LinkedIn” for athletes by athletes, and yes, I thought I was gaining leeway to get my foot in the door in the collegiate athletics industry. Up until this point as an athlete, I made good decisions and had every intention of graduating without losing focus.  However, I made a huge mistake, which resulted in the wake-up call I needed to motivate me in preparation for the real world.

The FIU Life Skills department invited a speaker to campus.  The topic was social media, and I signed up to attend the meeting but made the mistake of taking a nap and ended up oversleeping.  When I contacted the presenter via email to request the PowerPoint presentation, he responded, “We don’t get unlimited chances to have the things we want, nothing is worse than missing an opportunity that could have changed your life.” I will never know if that presentation would have changed my life because I never received it.  However, his direct and cold response did, in fact, change my life.

The following day, I went into super networking mode and started calling/emailing a list of 70+ Division 1 school’s life skills/athlete development directors.  A process which lasted several weeks and although I was still competing in track meets, I continued seeking “Industry Insight” and connections to land a job or assistantship because I knew graduation was coming fast. As all high school student athletes trying to attain the opportunity to compete at the next level should be aware; you have to put yourself out there. You pick up networking skills sending your highlight tape or statistics to coaches just looking for a chance and don’t even know it. I was in full get an opportunity mode as if I were a recruit.

Weeks later, I landed an interview at the University of Arkansas for a graduate assistantship position in academics but couldn’t attend the on-campus interview because I was scheduled to compete in my last conference indoor track and field competition. Before the Skype interview could be arranged,  the position was filled, I felt so close and knew my athletic career got in the way of my career ambitions yet again. I was down to one last on-call interview with the University of South Carolina and was out of connection opportunities, but I noticed I missed one email reply. I scheduled my last “Industry Insight” call with Raymond Harrison of Texas A&M. We had a great conversation as I had with the previous directors, I mentioned to him how my last interview with Arkansas fell out and how I’d be interviewing for the University of South Carolina. Unbeknownst to me, he was a former director at South Carolina, and he said he would put in a good word for me because I seemed genuine in my approach to him over the phone. Now I don’t know if that connection was ever made, but I went through the interview process and was happy to receive notice that I would be a future graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina. My foot was finally in the door.

The Reality of the Real World and Transitioning 

As a collegiate athlete, I was under the impression that the NCAA was a system taking advantage of the student-athlete and I wanted to change that. Now that I work in athletics; in academics and enrichment with my assigned academic advisor, my experience is a weekly eye opener not to blame the NCAA but establish a new system where student-athletes take full advantage of their scholarship, resources, and collegiate opportunity. Transitioning from the role of student-athlete to potential academic advisor operating under the scope of the SEC only exposed me to this deposition that I was always intrigued about.

I think of the majority of black student athletes across the country that need someone that looks, talks, thinks and operates like them to deliver a needed message of hope for their lives after sport. Who will lead/mentor this group of student-athletes to go above and beyond the realm of what the NCAA and their athletics program expect from them and reach for the stars? Team captains; coaches; academic advisors; life skills coordinators? This formula continues to leave out the athletes that could be motivated by one of their own. We are the present, past and future black student athletes. We are black millennials student-athletes, we want things now. We operate differently than the previous norms, and it’s proven.

The NCAA system does offer a lot of programs such as the Life Skills Symposium, the postgraduate internship, and the Leadership Forum, however, the symposium or event that caters to the personal development of black student-athletes and defines how this population can positively transition out of collegiate sports is not being offered.  The NCAA system is missing targeted advising, youthful speeches at life skills events, genuine cultural sensitive mentorship – an opportunity for black student-athletes to network with each other and general student-athlete guidance eliminating the attitude of “what did the NCAA do for me?” Replacing it with the fulfillment of having the full collegiate student-athlete experience.


The experiences of the black millennial student-athlete can range from the less fortunate to the most opportune. America is a place for opportunity, and understanding that the black student-athlete from the lowest of low incomes and opportunity can accomplish something as great as receiving a full scholarship to educate themselves is incredible. But what we should start proposing is the fact that education and the degree are not enough.  Implementing the personal development foundation or building upon an existing foundation is key to creating a pathway towards a passion for becoming more than just a student-athlete.

We must ask and answer the following questions truthfully.  Are the leadership on the high school and NCAA level providing personal development needs and reaching as many student athletes as possible? Have we tried all ideas presented?  A more important question, what are the black journalist and athletic leaders doing regarding the personal development needs of the black athlete?  I am willing to step up and play a leadership role to assist in the personal development needs of this unique population.  I’m hungry to take on this role to lead a generation of black student athletes that are indeed unsure of the transition to and from collegiate athletics.


Brandon Ballard

Master’s Candidate in Sports & Entertainment Management | University of  South Carolina | Dodie Academic Enrichment Center Graduate Assistant


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Memoir of an Athlete, Brandon Ballard, Part One

The successful journey of the current student-athlete begins and ends well outside of the realm of their performance in their perspective setting of play. History is being made, and records are vanishing due to the millennial student-athlete as well as the black millennial student-athlete. All student athletes that make it to the college level share the same feelings of accomplishment knowing they are the select few that will have the opportunity to continue their athletic career beyond high school or club play.

I genuinely believe there is not a universal comprehension of the stories behind each and every student-athlete that make this enormous accomplishment come true. A student-athlete must meet all sorts of guidelines before they have the choice to accept the opportunity to be a collegiate student-athlete based on their athletic abilities. I remember when my high school counselors and coaches informed the team that it was time to complete the NCAA Eligibility Center, diploma, and standardized test score requirements if you were serious about performing on the next level. Of course, I had no idea things like this existed, but I completed the task because that’s what it took. There are plenty of student-athlete stories that stop there. Not because of their athletic ability but because they couldn’t meet those three requirements stated alone. Who’s to say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to better themselves because of those requirements when they’ve made it so far already.

An important entity we should not overlook is the background of a student athlete, which includes their personal development. Student-athletes come from single, two-parent, legal guardian upbringings from all races and environments, which play a huge role in the personal development of the student-athlete entering college.

The personal development portfolio student-athletes carry with them through their journey is often dormant because their sports desires either over influence them not to speak to someone about their personal growth needs or they are unaware such resources even exists.

Fortunately for me, I was raised by both of my college-educated parents (my mother, who ran track) in a single home with a general sense of self-love and thankfulness to have a solid personal development foundation. Although they were college graduates, the dynamic of being a college athlete in this generation is different, so the foundation they provided me with had to be tinkered with, once I finally made the decision to attend Florida International University, located in Miami, FL and run track their as a walk-on my freshman year.

However, coming out of high school in 2012 being named the “Student Athlete” of the Year I was not informed of the opportunities to personally develop myself that would surround me being a student-athlete in college. The general sentiments of “You made it!” seems to plague college student athletes, not knowing that college is only the beginning. Advising the high school student athlete of the resources they can use to network and build their inner-being before they are sent off to college is critical.

Personal development is needed at the collegiate level. The dynamics my university offered were everything a high school athlete could imagine. However, if it weren’t for my upbringing and constant contact with my parents, my grades would’ve been atrocious. Resulting in me never earning the scholarship I was aiming for since making the decision to go to FIU. Your coaches can control you while you’re at practice and your adviser can guide you through the educational process but when you are alone with your “friends;” who is responsible for providing the personal development facets needed to help you become the best collegiate athlete you can be?

The Freshman Year Student-Athlete Experience

I walked on campus in Miami, moved into my dorm by myself, and was immediately the new track guy.  I had the identity as the new track guy before people could even get to know my name. Maybe because the first day I had arrived I was given an FIU Track and Field hat and rocked it all throughout freshman orientation, but truly it was because I was a student-athlete amongst regular college students. Athletics was number one from the beginning; I was there to perform, get the scholarship and get the degree. I was unaware of the type of advantages I could receive being an athlete and a student.  I separate the words for a moment to emphasize the difference between a collegiate athlete to a full-time student. As an athlete, I was exposed to all the other athletes from different backgrounds and immediately shared bonds and built friendships/connections.  But from my vantage point, the rules and regulations for us are different to the non-student athlete.

My fellow athletes and I walked around campus with a particular mantra about ourselves; you were an elite athlete. At my school, there was a little less than 50 thousand students enrolled but only about 350 student athletes, who for the most part all stayed on campus at a commuter school.

We were loud and proud about our FIU, wearing the gear we received. Of course, we were grinding working our butts off to be the best athletes we could be, but that constant appeal of being the athletes on campus in Miami, FL of all places can be mesmerizing. Too mesmerizing for some as I had probably lost more than two dozen teammates to the “Miami Animal” of endless fun and women/men. I was close to losing my opportunity as well, with a couple of run-ins with the campus police that could’ve ended terribly.


Read Part Two



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Transitional Management Program for Athletes

The Institute for Personal Player Development has launched its Transitional Management program for athletes of all ages.  Most people believe the transition is a one-time occurrence which takes place at the end of an athlete’s athletic career, but that is not entirely true.  A transition can occur as a result of many things such as an athlete entering college as a Freshman, and moving on to Sophomore, Junior and Senior year.  Transitions occur when athletes transfer schools or are asked to redshirt or play a new position.  They also occur when an athlete is charged with a crime or removed from the institution.   But the biggest transition is the final transition, leaving the athletic experience altogether.



For information on the Institute for Personal Player Development, Transitional Management program click here:  Transitional Management Program




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Athletes and Transitional Management

The disturbing transformation of Cliff Harris a one-time All-American high school athlete, Pack 12 champion, and former NFL hopeful is unfortunate but not new.  In fact, athletes self-destructive behavior post career is becoming a common theme for collegiate and professional athletes who are forced to transition out of sports. Transitional Management is a term we rarely associate with sports however the lack of transitional management services afforded to collegiate and professional athletes is at a minimum, and the need seems to be ever growing.

When Michael Phelps retired from swimming, he lost his identity and didn’t have any direction.  According to Phelps “I took some wrong turns and found myself in the darkest places you could ever imagine, that I hope nobody ever goes.”  The reality of Phelps loss of identity will be experienced by many collegiate and professional athletes. Although the athletic community and media witness issues and challenges athletes face, we still have not grasped the formula to assist young men and women who give us their all.”



What’s the cause of athletes spiraling out of control after they leave the game and what is needed to prevent it?  The proper term is Athletic Identity Transitional Management. Consider it a guide to understanding the multilevel platform of transitions experienced through sports participation, with a careful examination of the thought and behavior process associated with a significant change.  When we understand the process of thinking and behavior, we then can begin to work toward a successful transition.  According to Ronnie Stokes, former Ohio State standout, “Transitional support services are vitally important, unfortunately, kids leave college ill-equipped in certain areas, they are thrown out and expected to survive in a number of sectors, and the transition is an ongoing process.”

Some argue why should any collegiate or professional organization provide transitional management services for former players?  After all, when an employee or volunteer is fired or leaves a volunteer position in the workforce, they are never provided transitional management services. My argument is simple, these staff and volunteers that work for a company didn’t dedicate a significant part of their youth and adult life to that profession or that company, neglecting other opportunities in pursuit of becoming the best athlete they can be.

The transition from sports to the real world is documented as a difficult one.    However, athletes experience many transitions before transitioning out of sports, which we neglect.  Collegiate and professional organizations seem to have issues and challenges providing adequate programs and resources to assist athletes when experiencing a transition.  While they have programs in place, these programs are either, out of touch or misinformed on the particular type of services athletes require. Therefore, we are witnessing unfortunate stories of athletes who have everything going for themselves and end up with nothing.

If we expect athletes behavior in and outside of the sport to improve, our behavior, understanding, and approach to assisting athletes with the transitional phases need to improve as well.  More importantly, accountability for the well-being of athletes must become more than lip service or driven by the buddy system, specifically on the collegiate level.

Athletes dedicate years to the sport and the athletic community as he/she attempts to become the best they can be, meanwhile providing entertainment for fans, alumni, as well as generating revenue. Collegiate and professional organizations have an obligation to provide transitional management services for athletes they encounter, even when an athlete is removed from the institution for a disciplinary reason.  Was Cliff Harris provided any assistance during the  transitions he encountered while providing athletically related services?  Has anyone reached out to offer assistance to him now?

It’s sad when a former collegiate athlete will receive a letter or call from their universities foundation soliciting dollars but never receive a phone call from the athletic department asking how they are managing the transition.

For information on the Institute for Personal Player Development, Transitional Management program click here:  Transitional Management Program




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Athletes Equal Business and the IPPD Partnership

The Institute for Personal Player Development has partnered with Athletes Equal Business to provide preparation and career services for the Institute. Athletes Equal Business is a company dedicated to coaching, counseling and placing highly talented student-athletes into the corporate world. Working in harmony with educational institutions and America’s top companies, Athletes Equal Business helps student athletes make a smooth transition from the playing field, to their vocational field, and find rewarding employment. The Institute for Personal Player Development provides top quality training and development for athletes and athletic staff, with an emphasis on the personal, social and professional development of athletes. The partnership will merge services and offer athletes and athletic staff assistance with post-collegiate career preparation, Transitional Management Assistance and will provide a high school and community college online program.

Research has clearly shown that making the transition from college athletics to the “real world” is a difficult, frustrating and often painful experience for student-athletes. The reason for this, unlike most traditional students, athletes are focused on practicing and competing in their sport well into their senior year. This significantly reduces the time available to participate in career fairs, campus interviews and other programs designed to help them find gainful employment.

According to Scott Cvetkovski Director of Campus Relations for, Athletes Equal Business, the partnership is going to provide a beautiful, holistic support avenue for athletes everywhere. The Institute and Athletes Equal Business share the same values, and we believe this partnership makes us stronger in our cause to make sure athletes are getting the most education and support to be successful before, during, and after sports.

Dr. Mark Robinson, Sr. Director of the Institute for Personal Player Development believes this partnership is another step in building a full-service personal development institute specifically focusing on the athlete and the global athletic community. The partnership provides our growing list of domestic and international Personal Player Development Specialist an in-house option to assist athletes with career preparation and development. The agreement also allows the Institute to move forward and fully implement our Transitional Management Assistance program in all areas, which I am extremely excited about.

To learn more about Athlete Equals Business or The Institute for Personal Player Development contact:

Dr. Mark Robinson





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Community College Student Athlete Conference

Dr. Mark Robinson and The Institute for Personal Player Development partnered with West Los Angeles College to deliver the first annual community college student-athlete conference. This was the first of several events and conferences targeting the community college student-athlete.  Take a moment and watch the highlight video of this historical event.



If you are interested in hosting a Personal Player Development event contact:

Dr. Mark Robinson
Sr. Director
The Institute for Personal Player Development

Last Chance U is Our First Chance

The latest sport related documentary is Last Chance U.  Although the film is following the Eastern Mississippi Community College (EMCC) football team, the events that take place give us a look at much more than the usual college football drama made for TV.  The show is as real as it gets regarding the pressure, issues and challenges athletes encounter while on their journey of playing on to the D1 level.  More importantly, this is our first chance to see up close, some of the issues academic counselors are faced with and the ever growing need for Personal Player Development.

Each episode provides consistent reminders of the ever mounting need for Personal Player Development, precisely the lack of understanding in the area of my athletic identity stages of growth.  According to Dr. Tommy Shavers, “the absence of Personal Player Development comes down to three things, either they don’t know, don’t care or are not capable of providing athletes with assistance in this developmental space.  I believe we all know and care but being capable of helping student-athletes or even professional athletes in behavioural modification requires training.”

Athletic Identity and the five related stages are front and center in this film, the clip below is an illustration of how a student-athlete is experiencing one of the stages in athletic identity.  However, the academic counselor is not sure about the athletic identity stages and is at a loss in this very teachable moment.  If you work on a college campus specifically with athletes, this is a must see production.


Dr. Mark Robinson is the Sr. Director of the Institute for Personal Player Development and one of the pioneers on Athletic Identity.

Twitter: @drmarkppd

Dr. Tommy Shavers is the Chair of the Institute for Personal Player Development and founder of The Atlas Group.

Twitter: @Tommy_Speak



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