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DEDICATION

To my wife, Starla, and my daughters, Paisli and Serena, for supporting me and sharing me with many other people. We have all sacrificed to help others, and I couldn’t have done what I love doing without your love.

To all my former teammates, who I call my brothers. We grew together through adversity, challenges, victories, losses, and championships. We formed a bond through blood, sweat, and tears that kept us close many years later.

To all the former student athletes I coached for over twenty years. I learned more from you than I ever taught you. You were the fuel to my fire, and I appreciate you allowing me to grow through your dreams and efforts.

Contents

FOREWORD

PREFACE

INTRODUCTION

CHOICES

CHOOSING YOUR IDENTITY

CHOOSING A PATH

CHOOSING YOUR FRIENDS

CAREER CHOICE AND EDUCATION

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (BY AKEEM ROBINSON)

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

RELATIONSHIPS

MONEY AND WEALTH

PERSONAL FINANCE (BY DR. STARLA IVEY)

INVESTMENTS (BY DEREK LEGE)

LIVING LIFE

LIFE AFTER SPORTS

FOCUS

FAMILY

PASS THE BATON TO TEACH OTHERS

CONCLUSION

SOCIAL MEDIA

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

RESOURCES

AUTHORS

FOREWORD

I filtered a long list of different educational institutions down to five and had the printed applications on my desk. I had imagined the furnished studio apartment in all of the big cities, and I had already planned wardrobe selections for my first days of work based upon the season and region.

I looked up to my office door to see a familiar face adorned with an unfamiliar facial expression. “Coach” Pat Ivey had something on his mind, and I would later find out, on his heart. Fresh off of another graduation from the University of Missouri with a Masters of Education in Gifted Education, I was ready to hit the job market and start my professional career. The anxious excitement and internal elation from (finally) completing this process had taken over my day to day for weeks, but Coach was not in the mood to celebrate with me today. I was fully expecting Coach to congratulate, edify, encourage, and stimulate critical thinking of my next steps toward becoming a professional educator. Little did I know, he filled the doorway, my office, and my mind-set with a different sentiment.

Coach asked me, “What’s next?” I replied, “What do you mean? I’m done! I graduated and I’m about to move! I am ready to make some real money!”

Coach responds with, “NO, what’s next?” I was puzzled and was not following his prompt. He continued, “P-H-D. DOCTOR EK.” I smiled and shrugged it off. I was not in the mind-set to think about more school, more check-to-check life as a graduate assistant, or completing the ‘big bad wolf’ dissertation. No one that I knew, other than really smart people, go on to achieve PhD status. I was definitely not one among those…

Coach said “Doctor Ek,” smiled as he watched me absorb the thought, and then reversed out of my office door not saying another word. After multiple follow-up conversations and deliberations with Coach, and others, I decided that I would take the leap of faith, the courageous chance to succeed, and the life-changing steps to secure a terminal degree. 

Inherently at play here were the common fundamentals that I had learned from Coach through the previous five years of interactions: hard work and attention to detail; competition and fractional advantage; goal setting and goal achieving; delayed gratification through process and program; and resilience, innovation, teamwork, and intrinsic motivation.

If and when you are placed in the position to accept a challenge to holistically improve yourself, my lived experience continues to prove that seizing the opportunity works out for your good 100% of the time. Do not be confused, though. The situation does not always work out the way(s) you initially imagined, but you always reap internal and external rewards along the complex journey. That is normal—let it become your new normal. 

Where I am from, leaving anything on the table is not an option. Basic survival demands that you regularly operate in an exhaustively resourceful manner. I continue to be blessed by the guidance of Dr. Pat “Coach” Ivey as he demands this level of intentional tenacity and high performance from me in my adult life. Coach’s “Oracle-like” vision impacts many of my daily thoughts, words, and actions. 

Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu

Former College and Professional (NFL) Athlete

PREFACE

I have heard a lot of people talk about what sports taught them. A mentor of mine, Dr. Rick McGuire, told me that athletes learn from coaches. This book is a resource for student athletes in high school or college as well as professional athletes. The purpose of this book is to inspire all athletes to take full advantage of their opportunities as an athlete. What are you leaving on the table? This is a metaphor for the opportunities we all have when we have a seat at the table of sports or any situation for that matter. 

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

—Proverbs 9:9

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I knew back then what I know now?” Growing up I was always interested in learning and gaining knowledge. As I grew older I learned it was much more important to be able to apply that knowledge. For me, looking back and reflecting has always been a part of my learning process. To me, it was a way to not just avoid repeating mistakes but also learn how to improve. I’ve also been very competitive, so having information and learning from that information always seemed to fit with my quest to be the best that I could be.

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where it was all about the survival of the fittest and where violence and distraction were becoming the everyday norm. Despite the external environment, my parents did a great job, and I also had good teachers, which gave me an advantage in the classroom. I always wanted to be the best that I could be in the classroom and be a good student. I enjoyed being in class as this was usually a safe place to be. I was always encouraged and challenged to improve and be better. I believed I could become whatever I wanted because of the strong foundation I was provided. Looking back, I was privileged to have really good parents and teachers.

I enjoyed most of my experiences while going to elementary school but middle school was a slightly different story. Academically, I continued to have good experiences, but the environment in the hallways, bathrooms, and outside of school began to change for the worse. It seemed like from the first day of entering the middle school there were fights, drugs, and guns. It was well known that on Fridays if you wanted to be safe, you should run home as soon as school ended. There were many Fridays or other days when I ran home just to avoid the fighting or gunshots, although, there were some days I couldn’t outrun the violence and fights. Sometimes there was more than one person to fight and there was even one instance where I was threatened to be shot and killed. 

Due to the nature of this environment, I was forced to think about safety and protection in ways that someone so young shouldn’t have to. When I was ten years old, my mother decided she would take me to the football field as a way to further my development. In other words, I needed to get tougher. I would play for the Eastside Dallas Cowboys, a part of the Police Athletic League (PAL). My first coach was Coach Brock who was the best person I could have ever hoped for, as it was my first time playing football. Coach Brock was tough, loving, caring, and always consistent. He lived in the projects and rode his bike to and from practice. My first year playing football we went undefeated and not one opponent scored a point.

Coach Ogletree, or Coach “Tree” as we called him, was the next coach I would play for on the B team. We went undefeated as well. Coach Tree was very similar to Coach Brock except he was more patient and allowed us to make a few more mistakes. I now see this as a good thing because we were older, and it was important for us to try new things. Both Coach Brock and Coach Tree were instrumental in my development because I learned a lot about myself—they helped me define who I wanted to be. 

Both Coach Brock and Coach Tree prepared me for high school football. I played football in high school at Cass Technical High School under Coach Rowland. Coach Rowland was a blend of both my parents, with the patience of my Dad and the discipline of my Mom. Coach Rowland allowed the team leadership to develop in ways that not many other coaches would. He let the leadership develop through autonomy where he gave us the ability to make choices. 

Coach Rowland’s leadership style was very useful as we were maturing into young men. For example, I was allowed to completely make my decision about which college I would attend. My parents and my coaches were very similar in this regard. I was fortunate enough to have academic and athletic choices. As a matter of fact, I even had an Evans Scholarship for being a golf caddie. As I look back, these choices were available to me because of making many other good choices. 

I talk about “CHOICES” in this book as the first theme. Another word for choice is autonomy—the ability for one to make choices for oneself and by oneself. Having been a College Strength and Conditioning Coach I learned the importance of autonomy when trying to develop self-determined and self-motivated athletes. The ultimate goal of coaching is getting athletes to apply what is being taught. If a coach can foster an environment that allows athletes to make choices, it creates a team full of self-starters. This is important because athletes will spend more time away from coaches and with their teammates and friends.

The second theme in this book is “CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.” The chapter on Personal Development was written by Coach Akeem Robinson. Coach Robinson is currently a Director of Athletic Performance at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Personal development is about the steps one takes to become a mature person. It’s about knowing your identity because you’ve made many choices to develop it. I follow up Coach Robinson’s chapter on Personal Development with a chapter on Leadership Development where I highlight being put in a position or an environment that allows the traits of a leader to be taught, encouraged, and affirmed. 

The final chapter under the theme of Character Development is relationships. When I was playing football in high school, college, and professionally, I didn’t understand the power of relationships. I didn’t understand the power of the relationships I had with my teammates, coaches, administrators, professors, alumni, boosters, politicians, public servants, etc. I rarely had a meaningful conversation outside of talking about football and sports with many of the people who were really close to the program. Seldom was it a conversation about faith, finances, family, money, building wealth, life after sports, or what career path I would choose. As I look back, I didn’t know about the power of leveraging those relationships to help me later in life.

The third theme in this book discusses “MONEY AND WEALTH.” This topic is very important today in athletics, whether high school, college, or professional. There are many sobering statistics (i.e., bankruptcy) as to what happens to the majority of professional athletes the years after they are done playing. I believe with the right information, awareness, and resources, many of these negative statistics could be diminished, reversed, or altogether avoided. In this book I am discussing the importance of making the right choices fostered through character development. I believe if athletes have the right information and the ability to make the right choices, it will lead to better decision-making regarding their money, which can positively impact their wealth. 

For the Money and Wealth theme, the two chapters are written by Dr. Starla Ivey and Derek Lege. Dr. Starla Ivey is a college professor and teaches personal finance. Derek Lege is a College Athletic Performance Coach who also invests in the stock market. There is a strong need to do more financial education with students in general. Our purpose of discussing money and wealth is to help educate athletes, and those who work with athletes, so we all can benefit and start to get different results. 

The final theme is “LIVING LIFE.” In my opinion, sport and coaches provide a great opportunity to teach young people and prepare them for life. The three chapters under the theme Living Life are entitled “Life after Sports,” “Focus and Family,” and “Pass the Baton to Teach Others.” We all know that one day being a high school, college, or professional athlete will end. We also know we need to do a better job of preparing athletes for that day. I emphasize the importance of “Focus” because focus is all about choices and skills. I can’t think of anything in my life that is more important than being focused on what is important to me. There are many aspects of life, but none more important than my family. My family is very important to me. In fact, it was the same for most of the coaches and athletes I have coached or played with. Most athletes will say when asked, “What is your why?” their response is “my family.” The final chapter is titled “Pass the Baton to Teach Others.” I believe in order for our society to continue developing we must teach the young what we know and prepare them for a life worth living.

The ability for us to reach our goals in life depends on the choices we make now and in the future. The gift of choice is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given. These choices we make help form our character. In life, we are constantly choosing and developing our character. Understanding who we are and our purpose in life can help us choose what we want to do. There’s a lot of power and understanding with economics, a lot to gain with knowing how money works and how to build wealth. If we want to be the influencers who help make our society a better place to live, we must understand how to manage our finances. 

Over the years, I’ve learned what matters most in my life—my faith, my family, and my friends. One day, you won’t be able to play sports like you did when you were in high school, college, or in the pros. I can tell you from personal experience, there is life after playing sports! But, while you’re still playing make sure you have a plan, or at least start developing one. Make sure that while you are an athlete, you are still growing outside of the sport. Make sure you’re learning something every day that you can use now and later in life. 

CHOICES

Never go one day without learning something!

—Al Ivey

It’s important to understand the gift of choice is one of the greatest gifts in life. The choices we make have both direct and indirect impacts on our lives and those around us. Choices are basically just thoughts we have that lead to an action, which inevitably has a consequence. The consequences for our choices and actions can be positive, negative, immediate, delayed, etc. The choices we make are important!

When I was a college football player at the University of Missouri, I attended chapel service during the football season where sometimes we would have guest Chaplains deliver the message. I remember one of the best and most important messages I ever heard was a discussion focused around the most important choices you’ll ever make. 

I remember each one of the words started with the letter “M.” The first word was “Master” followed by the question, “Who will you serve?” Will it be material things, or will it be faith based? The second “M” word was “Mission,” described as your “Why” and “What.” It’s important to discover your purpose in life so you can work to accomplish it. The third “M” word was “Marry” followed by the question of, “Who will you marry?” The Chaplain said this decision was paramount, as this would be the person you would choose to spend the rest of your life with. The fourth “M” word was “Money” where he spoke about having the right perspective on money. Money is important because it’s necessary to support your family and to execute your mission. Having the wrong motivations around money can lead to a life filled with negative consequences. The fifth and final “M” word was “Multiply” with the message/question of, “How will you use your mission and money to help others?” It’s important to gain knowledge, skills, and experience to help and teach others. Others may be your spouse, children, family members, friends, or anyone. He taught us how all these “M” words could impact our lives and everyone around us. To this day, I’ve never forgotten that important life lesson.