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Getting Candid: WSF Launches National Program for NCAA Student-Athletes


The WSF hosts the first “Candid Conversations” events at Loyola and Ohio Universities

For more than 40 years, when athletes have spoken we have listened, providing expert guidance, advocacy and programs to help women advance in their sports and beyond. So, when in late 2014, the conversation around athletes transitioning from competitive sports to their professional lives grew louder, we began to think about the ways in which we could help smooth that transition and empower champion athletes, including student-athletes, to continue to excel beyond the collegiate playing field, into conference rooms and C-suites across the country. And thus, Candid Conversations was born.

Candid Conversations is a new series that builds on the Foundation’s Athlete Leadership Connection, an initiative aimed at providing champion and college athletes practical experiences and skills to advance in their athletic careers and in their transition post-competition. Each year, thousands of female student-athletes graduate from college with little knowledge on how their on-field talents can translate into success in any workplace. EY research reports that 94 percent of women working in C-suites state having sports experience — 52 percent in college sports – and credit the skills learned through sports as contributions to their success.

Candid Conversations matches expert-trained Women’s Sports Foundation athlete leadership – women who have themselves successfully transitioned past their playing careers – with college athletic departments to deliver educational, inspiring and practical counsel to female student-athletes.

Candid Conversations are presented to a captive audience of female NCAA student-athletes. They represent various ages – freshmen to seniors — and a spectrum of fields of study, including business, education, law and STEM. Athletes might be the first in their families to attend college; others might be preparing for graduate school or even, professional sports. With both inspiration and tactical advice, Candid Conversations answers the universal question the vast majority of student-athletes face upon graduation: what will life be like after sport?

Visiting the Loyola University Maryland and Ohio University Campuses
To launch Candid Conversations, WSF traveled to Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore on Sunday, April 17, and to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, April 19 and engaged more than 200 college-aged women.

In Maryland, Olympic gold medalist rower Esther Lofgren opened the evening by saying, “A sports experience offers brilliant possibilities for your future.” All the lessons learned through sports, teamwork, dedication, resilience and much more, combine to make a strong candidate in the classroom, the boardroom and around the country. Making the jump from college athletic success to career success is no easy feat but Lofgren reminded us, “The only way to live a life that is meaningful to you is to mindfully choose that life as best you can.”

Lofgren also addressed the fear many student-athletes face as they try to figure out what’s next: “All of us here, we practice so hard and so diligently on our game. Yet, we spend so little time preparing for our lives after we step from the field, or court, or track, or the water. Not because we aren’t invested in what will happen. But because we are just trying to keep our grades up, practice hard and play well, and maintain some sort of social life. No time for internships, part time jobs, study abroad. We just don’t have the time to do anything else, and suddenly the ‘real world’ is staring us in the face.”

Through Candid Conversations, elite female athletes are able to connect with the next generation and help offer advice and guidance about the multitude of options available to these young women post their playing careers. Following the event, Loyola Associate Athletic Director David Gerrity said, “Esther Lofgren shared her journey from the world of rowing and being an athlete to the business world. Her insights gave some strong advice to our young women as they get ready to embark on their own journeys to the real world.”
Next up WSF traveled to Ohio University with WSF President, two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup medalist in soccer, Angela Hucles.

Hucles drew from her own experience and reminded the young women that as athletes they already have a vast network of connections: “Whatever place you’re in, whether it’s knowing exactly what you want to do after college, or you have no clue, that’s ok, wherever you are is fine, and you’re not alone. You have a network of support to tap into.” Kendall Jessing, a freshman basketball player, said following the event, “Ms. Angela Hucles really emphasized how important references are and how critical it is to stay in touch with the people who helped us get to the spot we are in today. She told us to find our own mentor to look up to and stay in touch with. It made me realize how many influential people I could potentially meet during my time here at Ohio and I can’t wait to see where these future relationships can take me.”

Wrapping up the event in Ohio, it was great to see the conversation continue amongst the student-athletes and to see how impactful this series will continue to grow to be. Abby Gilleland, a senior volleyball player said, “This was a unique opportunity for our Ohio female athletes to learn and relate to someone who has been in similar situations. While we all will not have the opportunity to go professional in our respective sport but we will all experience the joys and hardships as we make the professional transition in our lives. I’m grateful for this experience and Angela’s insight.” We are excited to continue to grow this new initiative and watch it take hold around the country. Stay tuned – WSF will host Candid Conversations at colleges and universities nationwide in 2016.

View Photos from the Events >>