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2020 Was A Litmus Test For College Athletics And Athletes

For many, 2020 can’t come to a close fast enough, but it might be a great time to do some introspective thinking and take inventory of what we learned this year. Many in college athletics will benefit from the tumultuous year to grow from the experiences. Whether you are a current student-athlete, former student-athlete, or college administrator, we all have that competitive drive to get better, learn from past experiences, and attack our future goals.

When I look at 2020, it seems like one very long litmus test. Everyone must evaluate themselves and the people around us as to how we handled adversity and success this year. Professionally and personally, every one of us had a series of highs and lows that may have brought out the best or the worst in us. You know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” so did they?

Leadership always takes a front seat during a year like 2020. Did the leaders in your world lean forward into the headwinds and create a positive work environment? Or did problems fester and linger longer than necessary? This was a year filled with unknowns and people desperately wanted to see strength in the eyes of their leaders. My hope is that a lot of mentees learned how to respond (or not) to crisis management.

The value of relationships was never more important than in 2020. Did your teammates have your back when you were down? If so, you will run through a wall for them in the future. How did co-workers step up when others were furloughed or let go? Did you have strong enough relationships with donors to ask for money when budgets were cut? If your giving levels dropped dramatically, it may be time to reevaluate donor relationships and begin cultivating deeper ones in the future. In a time of crisis, you have to be able to rely on strong bonds regardless of the context.

Budgets were decimated this year, so how was it handled?  Every athletic department handled the loss of revenue in different ways. We witnessed voluntary pay cuts and involuntary pay cuts that may have divided or unified different staffs. If some coaches took cuts and others opted not to that may have a ripple effect in 2021. We have witnessed first hand that addressing budget cuts properly can destroy morale or forge people together.

We saw sports postponed and sports cancelled. Did student-athletes quit or did they hit the weight room and double down on future activities? Did donors try to raise money to resurrect a sport or did they accept the death sentence? For sure 2020 was a test for 100% of the student-athletes on campus and how they dealt with isolation, training, competing, and being a good teammate. I think all of us in college athletics have been knocked down plenty of times and always find a way to get back up stronger.

Communication styles have been under the microscope this year as transparency has become more critical than ever. Confidence grows with teammates and co-workers who felt like there was transparency in difficult times. How people dealt with communications in 2020 will serve as do’s and don’ts for decades to come.

Regardless of where you stand on 2020, we are nearing the end and 2021 will be filled with new opportunities. Hopefully the silver lining is that we all learned and benefitted from this unprecedented set of circumstances. It is never too early to start using our experiences to create future success and good fortunes. I for one feel optimistic for 2021, my glass is “half-full” and look forward to a great year and learning from the past.