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  • Colin Jonov

The Developmental Challenges Posed by NIL and the Transfer Portal in College Athletics

I recently appeared on a podcast called NIL Undressed to discuss the importance of NIL, the transfer portal, and the future of where it is going. It’s a conversation I really enjoy because it is truly unlike anything we have ever seen in athletics. The floodgates have been opened, and the future is unknown. However, what I want to focus on today is the impact of NIL and the transfer portal and its effect on mental and physical development for college athletics.

First, let’s discuss the physical developmental issue that arises. Eighteen-year-old men and women are now expected to show up on day one and be ready to start for their universities, or else their replacement will be brought in via the portal. You are no longer simply fighting for your roster spot with the young men and women on your team, but now with everyone on every team across the country. I get it, that’s how professional sports work as well. Nonetheless, there’s a developmental aspect that we are missing out on. Eighteen-year-olds simply aren’t as mature as professional athletes. People develop on different timelines. So, let’s reflect on that. I don’t care who you are, you get slapped in the face with a reality check when you first step on a college campus out of high school. You’re no longer head and shoulders above everyone else. In fact, you’re more than likely head and shoulders beneath your teammates when you first show up as a freshman. If that’s not already enough of a mountain to climb, there’s the reality that if you don’t physically catch up quickly, you’ll begin to lose the attention and focus of your coaching staff. Now, don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in rewarding excellence. But, don’t young kids still deserve the attention needed to grow and develop? Not every player picks things up with the snap of their fingers. Some players take longer to develop. Unfortunately, those players get lost in the shuffle, which prevents many athletes from reaching their full physical potential. We, as a society, have been conned into believing that the speed at which we pick things up equates to long-term success. The reality is, some of the best performers were late developers. Some of the greatest athletes to ever exist weren’t freshman phenoms. A perfect example is Drew Allar, Penn State’s quarterback. That young man is 19 years old, a true freshman, starting for a premier college football program in a premier conference at the hardest position in all of sports to play. Now, let me say, I detest Penn State as a Pitt graduate. However, this kid should be celebrated for what he did this year. Do people realize how hard that is? No, the answer is emphatically no. People want to now destroy this kid and label him as a bust. Can we take a step back and realize at how ridiculous that sounds? Did he play as well as he would have wanted? No, absolutely not. But we, as the adults in the world, should not only be encouraged, we should be ecstatic that he played the entire season on a top 10 college football program. Instead of being excited about how much he can grow, society will demand elite success right away. They’ll put pressure on the program to replace him in the portal. That’s the reality of our society right now. Instant gratification is all we seek. What does that do to the mental side of things? Let’s take a look.

Now, this is where things truly go haywire. On both sides of the coin, NIL and the transfer portal have kids’ psyches all messed up. Previous generations, including my own, have no concept of the pressure that kids are under. Everyone is under a microscope for every misstep they take. I’m sorry, Michael Jordan enthusiasts, but no, not even he endured the pressure these kids handle from a young age. In today’s world, when you make a mistake, the whole world sees it, and you are reminded of it every time you open your phone. In previous times, you could make a mistake and quietly adjust and fix it. The pressure to be perfect in every element of their lives is heightened. That can truly cripple young men and women. Not to mention the pressure of endorsement deals, business deals, and financial incentives. Are kids really mature enough to handle that at 18? Now, don’t get me wrong, I am so happy college athletes can make money and benefit from their name, image, and likeness. However, isn’t it the adults’ job to guide and organize this to uplift the younger generation? We have failed this younger generation in so many ways, and then we want to point the finger at them and call them “spoiled brats”. Whose fault is that? It’s OURS. All tied to the trail of money, since that’s all that matters in society apparently. The good ole power of the dollar. Hey, don’t get it twisted, I am all about making money, especially this life-changing money. However, it’s not the only thing that matters. Success and fulfillment in athletics and life go far beyond money. We often chase the short-term paycheck instead of looking for the long-term investment. Kids don’t have the guidance that they deserve, and it leads to a lot of bad decisions, which brings me to my next point: kids don’t know how to handle adversity. There is 100% an entitlement problem with this younger generation. They believe they are owed something. They don’t handle adversity well. They lack the systems in their life to prepare for everything thrown at them. A wise man once said, “tough times create tough people, tough people create easy times, easy times create soft people.” This is where the old school in me comes out. What are we really teaching kids? That it’s okay to pick up and leave when things don’t go your way initially? Again, transferring can be extremely beneficial — I KNOW BECAUSE I WAS A TRANSFER. Everything needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis, though. My fear is people are transferring more often than not because of their inability to handle lack of playing time or being third-string on the depth chart. Redshirting used to be an amazing thing. Now, it’s viewed as an insult to the players. Somewhere along the line, “doing the work” got lost. I know it’s not popular to say, but there is something to be said about “hustle culture”. People who hustle tend to figure it out in life. I fear that with what NIL and the portal have become, we have lost that element in life. There are no shortcuts in life. Life is hard. Athletics are hard. We aren’t preparing the youth properly for what society is and has become. I’m not saying I have all the answers because I don’t. However, we’ve taken something that can be pretty special and have turned it into a lot of misery, even for coaches too. Man, I feel bad for some coaches. Yes, the Jimbo Fischer’s of the coaching world will be okay, but we forget about the mid-major and FCS coaches. However, that’s a conversation for another time. This talk is about the athletes. They deserve better. We can be the agents of positive change.

It’s time we start implementing the guidance and systems kids need to thrive in athletics and life. They need fortitude.

To Building Fortitude forever and always.

Best Regards,

Colin Jonov, Founder & CEO Athletic Fortitude

P.S. Want to share your experiences or challenges with us? Reply to this newsletter or connect with me on social media @ColkyJonov10. I’m here to support you on your journey!

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