Why You Need a Walk-On Attitude For Your Sports Career

a walk-on attitudeA stretch Hummer pulled up at the College Football Hall of Fame on April 22nd, 2006, inside was the top football recruit in the nation, high school senior and National Offensive Player of the Year, Jimmy Clausen.

A press conference was prepared and ready to grab the attention of the sports world as Clausen arranged to tell the world which college football program he would bestow his greatness upon. As the then 18-year old quarterback stepped out of the stereotypical symbol of early 2000’s exuberance, the smirk on his face told the world all you needed to know – he lived for this attention.

Running back Joe McKnight joined Clausen as the top two recruits in college football that year. Can’t miss prospects, touted by analysts and dreamt of by coaches. Everyone wanted them. Everyone adored them.

USC and Pete Carroll signed McKnight, while Charlie Weis wooed Clausen to Notre Dame. Two iconic programs feeling confident these commitments would continue, or grow, their position in the sport.

Jimmy clausen cocky attitude
Jimmy Clausen announcing his intention to attend Notre Dame
Names like Chris Galippo, Marc Tyler and Terrance Tolliver were also consensus top 10 recruits, salivated and fawned over as program-defining athletes.

Scan the top 100 recruits that year and you’ll see a handful of familiar names – Cam Newton (#28), Golden Tate (#76) – and yet for every Dez Bryant (#44) there are ten Richetti Jones (#45).

Judging and evaluating 18-year olds who are playing a man's game but haven't yet fully developed their man's body, is a near impossible practice, wrought with failure.

Just ask J.J. Watt, who was recruited the following year, but listed no where near the top 100.

Just a 2-star recruit coming out of high school in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, Watt dreamed of playing for the University of Wisconsin, but the defensive end didn’t hit the Badgers radar and instead he settled for Central Michigan. Watt would play tight end his freshman year, playing in 14 games and harnessing 8 catches for 77 yards.

This simply wasn’t good enough for Watt.

He left CMU after his first season, took some classes at community college, worked as a pizza delivery driver and walked on at University of Wisconsin in 2008 to play defensive end.

No stretch Hummer, no stars, no pomp, no circumstance. He walked on without a scholarship or any commitment to play, determined to make playing a significant role at Wisconsin a part of his future.

In 2008, Clausen threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. McKnight averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Watt played on the scout team, never seeing anything but the practice field.

This didn't discourage Watt, it motivated him, working harder than anyone else at his role and being awarded the Scout Team Player of the Year award.

His on field performance eventually caught up to his hunger and his career began to blossom with the Badgers, culminating in a 1st round selection in the 2011 NFL draft and three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

Clausen would later flame out in the NFL, starting a total of 14 games over a 5-year career, and throwing twice the number of interceptions as touchdowns. Similarly, McKnight played just 4 seasons, totaling just over 500 yards rushing for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.

As Watt’s foundation “Dream Big, Work Hard” suggests, maintaining a walk-on attitude has driven the big man from the inside out, just like it has for other walk-on’s who have earned incredible success - guys like Ben Wallace, Ryan Howard, Jordy Nelson, Scottie Pippen and Clay Matthews.

How does this affect you in your job search? It’s simple really.

A Walk-On Isn’t Afraid  

When J.J. Watt received just 2-stars from recruiting sites, despite being first-team all-state in Wisconsin, he could have begun to see himself as “not quite good enough.”

No one would have blamed him, in fact, his family would have given him a collective hug and mentioned a few times how proud they were of him either way.

He could have reasonably assumed, everyone else is just better than I am, so I’ll just settle for what comes my way.

But that thought, I’m guessing, didn’t enter his mind. He was willing to see himself differently than everyone else. He was eager and determined to prove people wrong.

Let’s say you attended Fort Hays State University in Kansas, it was close to home, it was affordable, it made sense. You’ve taken great courses, learned from seasoned professors, studied your field and you are ready to take on the world.

But as you start going out there for interviews you are competing against people who graduated from popular well-known and respected programs like Syracuse, USC, Indiana and Penn State. They all think they are better than you. They all think they have something you don’t, because their piece of paper says so.

So what are you going to do, be fearful or go at it with confidence?

I’ll tell you what Scottie Pippen would do – he’d dunk on those fools.

If you work hard, you study, you take your internships seriously – if you win your scout team award – you can stand up to anyone.

Don’t be afraid.

A Walk-On Works Harder

A walk-on doesn’t have an easy path.

Instead of having a guaranteed role on a team, and a scholarship to help defray costs, they are told, “sure you can show up to practice...we’ll see if you can cut it.”

This is performance by fire, no time for anxiety or taking it easy – it’s nothing but work. A walk-on tries to beat up on the scholarship guys. Beat them in the weight room, the practice court, the classroom – everywhere.

Because they have to.

Walk-on’s are fighting for a scholarship, fighting for a role, fighting for a chance to be noticed.

In the workplace, stay later, show up earlier, work at everything to the best of your ability – if not, your employer will find someone else who will.

Hard work matters.

A Walk-On Takes Every Opportunity

As an employer I’ve hired interns, entry level staff, mid-level managers and executives; and there is a theme in every role.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

Some people do what needs being done, others only do what they think they deserve.

I’ve worked with an executive who got up on a ladder and changed the light bulbs in the newsroom because it needed doing. I’ve also worked with interns who refused to log press conferences because they thought it was beneath them.

You know what walk-on’s do? Everything their coach asks, and they do it at 110.

Every opportunity, no matter how big or how small is a chance to prove yourself worthy of more.

Deliver coffee better than the last person and maybe next time you’ll be handing out materials at a board meeting. Do a sloppy job communicating changes in a press release, and next time you’ll be watching one of your peers address the media.

Is that what you want?

Final Thought

Bottom line, guys like J.J. Watt have attitude. They believe they can do anything, the connection between hard work and success has forged a superhighway in their brain where they believe the only way to win is to outwork everyone else.

Maximum effort makes them unstoppable.

Compare that to the people who are given so much, whether it is attention or opportunity. More often than not they don’t end up wanting it as bad as others. They take their opportunities for granted, and they enjoy the accolades more than the process of improving.

So where do you fit?
By Brian Clapp | July 18, 2017
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