Editor's Note: Mentoring the youth has been a common goal for many of the athletes that I have spoken to while running AthletesLTD. This is important because athletes are in a unique position because we acquire a particular set of skills while playing collegiately and professionally that we can pass this skill set along to the youth. A lot of athletes are currently coaching children in their sport but they're doing so much more than that. They're acting as role models while teaching about discipline, courage, and overcoming adversity. These skills are valuable to the kids, and these athletes are valuable to the community. Mike Grant Jr. is one of these athletes. He played football collegiately at UNLV, professionally in the Arena Football League for the San Jose Sabercats, and is currently an NFL Free Agent.
"Sports Isn't Everything: How I'm Giving Back to the Community"
By Mike Grant Jr.
I didn't begin to hear, "sports isn't everything" until I grew older, at least that's when I paid attention to the actual meaning of it. Growing up. I believe that guidance is vital to a child's mentality towards life and for helping him or her make critical decisions later in life. As a young athlete, I've always been the underdog and never received the credit I felt I deserved and rightfully earned.
At the time, the “Underdog Mentality” was my guidance. The feeling that a coach or even your parents don’t believe in you can take away from your focus but as you grow up and mature you start to realize what is important to your parents may not be the same for you. The reason I believed the Underdog Mentality was guiding me was because I knew my worth. I knew that if I had the same opportunities as others I too would flourish and be recognized.
But I had to overcome that mentality. The best way for me to overcome it was to find something that would allow my hard work to be recognized. For me, that outlet had become sports. As youngsters we don't realize how good we are or what our potential could be and that results in building leaders by starting out as followers until he realizes what is actually within himself. But during that process there will also be distractions that will try and pull your focus away from your goal. For me, once I got into high school guidance became more critical and the Underdog Mentality wasn't enough to keep me focused on my goals. Between the added distractions and responsibilities my goal became progressively harder to chase alone. After you receive a bad test grade or have a bad performance, many kids don't understand how to learn from it, move on, and focus on working harder for the next task. Without that help, motivation, or guidance to move on progress would cease.
That is what happened to me. I had become complacent, but I was searching for someone who would help build my spirits back up for the next battle. My focus would waver because I felt that I would work my hardest only to go unnoticed and that feeling cast a shadow over me until my junior year in college at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV). I believe on the sports side of things that if I would have been guided into believing that there was a life after sports I wouldn’t have taken it so personally. But athletics was all I felt I had, it guided me, it gave me discipline, and it taught me how to value teamwork.
However, I had to learn a lot of life lessons the hard way, as I will write about in my later articles, and that ultimately brought out the Underdog Mentality again. But this time I was prepared and I attacked life from a different angle. I felt compelled to seek out and connect with individuals that were great role models in my life and then use them as my mentors; guidance if you will. I wanted to be able to contact someone who had gone through similar experiences to seek guidance and wisdom in how to overcome my personal issues. I searched for a mentor and I found a village. Just conversing, listening, and engaging in various topics helped me develop a keen interest for reading, writing, and learning more about life. Utilizing that guidance helped build my self-esteem and allowed me to peer into other careers and tell others about my dreams and aspirations. Now I’m older, wiser, and want to provide guidance to the youth to give them things that I felt I had lost out on or present to them opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of.
One of my main focuses to helping out the children is to be there rock and be a firm believer and supporter for them. That is what I needed. That is what I want to give back to the community. I’m developing a training company that not only focuses on helping athletes excel in their sport but to also to help them as a big brother, mentor, and friend. This program will teach them vital tools that they will keep with them in their lives to help them grow and mature that they will also be able to refer back to when feeling unmotivated or lost in life. The guidance I received helped me shape my life and I want to be able to give back to my community. I take pride in helping kids understand that life after sports can be the same as life while playing sports. Every time I heard, "so what will you do after you're done playing?" I'd do my best to weave around the question, not because I didn't know but because I hadn't start to pursue those goals yet, I hadn’t even started to think about life without sports. It wasn't until the window to play professional sports started to close when I finally realized how much I was hindering myself from my full potential by not thinking about that question. But I had the help of a great supporting cast keeping me focused and positive which allowed me to do more for my community. A lot of people don't believe that they can be involved in many great things at once. The key is finding the balance between managing your time and staying focused on your goals. Once I came to that realization I began to express this message to the youth. Now I enjoy chasing professional sports as well as following other career goals.
I realized the impact that I have on the youth isn’t solely athletic. I share life lessons with them and gear up to compete with them. I set standards and examples of how something should be down properly and share my wisdom with them in the process. It gives them a real life example of someone not giving up their dream while still building a brand to be a household name on and off the playing field. I hang my hat on explaining the full details of what we are doing, why we are doing, when it can become relevant. Although the medium is through athletics the kids are improving their interpersonal skills and gaining a mentor in the process. Then we compete. I put my practice shoes on and engage in the training sessions myself to show proper technique and to show them the old man has still got it.
In the end it is about the kids. Personally, it wasn't until I sacrificed my ego and asked for help that I learned having 24 hours in a day allowed me to pursue multiple goals, including mentoring the youth. There are many of us out there that can also be better role models, not just by what we do but what we never stop doing. That is why I vowed to consistently give the youth my support and mentorship to help them develop critical thinking skills and a competitive nature so that they will excel not only in sports, but in the real world.