Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kurt David...Helping Transitioning Athletes Refocus and Reinvent

After my blog post on Mychal Johnson and his transition from Division 1 college football player to high school football and baseball coach, I was fortunate to connect with Kurt David on LinkedIn.
Kurt has gone through a transition of his own…playing professional basketball in Germany…and now is a transition consultant for professional and Olympic athletes, an author, a TV host, and a speaker.

Kurt David
His book From Glory Days…Successful Transitions of Professional Detroit Athletes spawned the TV show of the same name [From Glory Days]. Currently, it can be found on your local PBS station in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and throughout Michigan. And, they are working on expanding the viewership into other states. On the TV show, Kurt interviews former athletes.
I read his book a few nights ago and learned about Detroit athletes Greg Kelser, Kelly Tripucka, Dave Bing, Allan Houston, Frank Tanana, and Rick Leach, among others. It is a fascinating and quick read on the ups and downs of their transitions. It’s something that stays with you…and days later I am still thinking about the challenges these men faced.
Recently I sat down with Kurt to learn more about transitions and his work with world-class athletes.
PJ: Tell me a little about your background. You played professional basketball in Europe, right?
Kurt: My background was really athletic. I was one of six children and the tone was set early for us. We competed inside and outside the house…including brushing our teeth! I played as a freshman in college [at Saginaw Valley State University] and had an up and down career.
Germany was a great experience. I say it was a paid vacation! There was another player from the United States, from Clemson, and he and I scored 55 points per game. I came back for a free agent tryout for the NBA in San Francisco. It was by invite-only and there were 18 of us. I knew I knew something wasn’t right. But, it wasn’t until I went to the doctor and he told me that if I kept playing I wouldn’t be walking at 40. I needed knee surgery. My knee was worn down to the bone where some cartilage should have been.
I took a year off to regroup and decided to go back to grad school to get my masters in counseling. I got a chunk of that out of the way. The rest is history. My undergrad degree was in elementary education, so I taught math and science and coached varsity basketball. Then I finished my masters.
PJ: How did you have the idea for your book on Detroit athletes and their transitions?
Kurt: I had the idea about the whole transition thing at 3am. I woke up in the middle of the night and had the outline. I didn’t touch this for a few years as my dad had Alzheimer’s and my sister and I took care of him. I went back to the book after he passed away. It took three years to write. I interviewed 20 Hall of Famers and champions who were struggling and successful.
The book came out in 2007 and the second edition came out in 2008…and made the best sellers list. Then, I had the idea to have a TV or radio show, interviewing the guys. The TV show took first.
When I did research for the book, there wasn’t a lot of help with transition for high-caliber athletes. I sit down with a lot of great guys who are lost or have lost focus. It’s sad to see that they are not sure what to do with the rest of their lives. My motive for the book was if one person picked up the book and it helped them…that’s great
PJ: It’s hard for many athletes to think about what’s next after their career is over. Their entire focus is on today and their performance.

Kurt interviewing former No. 1 NBA
Draft pick, Derrick Coleman
Kurt: Very few guys do this…thinking about what’s next.
It’s almost like the grim reaper. They are starting to plant the seed with the current guys…that this will not last forever. 100 percent will face job termination…at some point this is over. The ones who are successful know this in the back of their mind. If it’s in the front, doubt creeps in and they just can’t compete at the highest level.
This is an interesting topic. One of the guys did not know how to write a resume until he was 35. It was a new experience…he didn’t need to write one before. It’s the simple things we take for granted.
Some guys just want to keep playing…even if it’s in the minor leagues. They could get paid $35,000 in the minors and they don’t care, they just want to keep playing.
Look at Brett Favre. He retired…what…three times…and kept coming back. I understand it. In his heart he thought he was done. Then a few months later he realized he still had gas in the tank.
Look at Lance Armstrong…what causes people to do that? Letting go is no doubt the most difficult aspect for high-caliber athletes.
PJ: In your consulting work, what do you focus on?
Kurt: In my research and through my own experiences, I’ve learned that there are five keys to having success again. I like to keep things simple, so I took them and put them in an acronym... RULES. It’s easy to remember. We have rules in games, rules of life, and team rules.
R: Refocus. Guys have to refocus, evaluate, and set new goals. They have to have a new passion and purpose in life. It’s about how as athletes we need to develop new passion in life…soul searching, creating new goals. or just keeping old goals. We do skill inventories, etc. We set short-term and long-term goals. It’s about reinventing a new focus and new goals.
U: Use your network. Athletes have a vast network around them. It’s one of the things that help focus, and help set the goals. What part of the network should you tap into to help? For example, a few guys wanted to go into broadcasting and they asked who can they tap into? I emphasize utilize people. Why not call them and tell them this is what I’m thinking of doing and ask what they think.
L: Letting go. Letting go of the fact that I’m a high-caliber athlete. It’s the opposite of what we are wired to do—getting knocked down and get up and try again. Never give up. This is the most difficult part…determining what you need to let go of.
E: Execute. Knowing what to do isn’t good enough, you need to know what to do with it. This is a quote from one of my coaches. And, it’s true. Here’s an example of success. He was a high school All-American, a college All-American, and an NBA Hall of Famer. He built a $500 million business after the NBA. Then, he decided that he wanted to help out the local community and became the Mayor of Detroit. This man is Dave Bing. He executed over and over. He kept building success. He continues to push the envelope. He could’ve coasted, but he didn’t. It’s amazing what he’s accomplished.
S: Someone. People in transition found someone to attach to…to mentor them. It’s good to get a mentor, especially in your line of focus. I know an NBA player who liked TV. He liked being interviewed, etc. He found a local guy in TV and hung out with him in the studio and learned so much from him. And, he was ready when an opportunity came along. Now he’s been in NBA broadcasting for 25 years.
PJ: Besides not having a plan for the transition ahead of time, what are the other hurdles a world-class athletes faces?
Kurt: These guys take a 90 percent pay cut…or more. That is, unless, you are an outlier like Michael Jordan or Tiger, which is rare. The focus is on the money part.
I always ask…what is it like to lose 90 percent of your income? Mateen Cleaves [who played on the 2000 Michigan State NCAA basketball championship team, as well as six years in the NBA], was the most candid. He said…I hate it. Before I could buy anything and not think about it. Then, I had to go on a budget and watch where the dollars go.
He just shared his reality and why it stinks. Even if they save, they may still have to work when it’s over. The general public doesn’t have a lot of empathy for them. However, they have a small earning window…it’s just that they earn more than most people ever make. It’s whatever the market bears.
Did you know that up to 25 percent of players are bankrupt during the first year out of the game? Up to 60 percent of the NBA players are bankrupt 5 years out. And, up to 75 percent of NFL players are bankrupt within 2 years.
Another fact: Up to 80 percent experience divorce. So, that’s what they face. Those are hard apples to chew on.
Some of this is due to poor choices. Mike Tyson made $300 million over his career…did he really need what tigers? And, bad people were robbing him blind.
Some is generosity. An example of this is a pitcher who pitched in four out of six games in the World Series. Two years later he is working in a rural factory in Michigan. Why? He fixed up his parents’ house and he bought his wife’s parents a house…all when he was in the World Series. He was thinking he had four to five years left in his career. Then, he got injured during the strike and never recovered and he had no money coming in.
These are real issues, not just poor decisions and poor money management.
PJ: You’ve made a successful transition. What makes this the right thing for you?
Kurt: This is my passion…helping these athletes, showing they are human…real people. They are just like you and me and have to deal with the same things we do. There is still reality for them to face.
Every story is different, every athlete is different. Ask the same questions and get different answers.
What really excites me is if high-caliber athletes can apply the same wherewithall during their transition as they did to get to that top level in sports. If they can, then stand back….they are blazing a trail in the real world. How exciting is that?
I interviewed someone on my program and a week later I saw him at a charity event. He was a world champion. He told me it was so refreshing to talk to someone who understands [all aspects of the transition]. That’s a level of trust. I want the word to get out to other athletes as well…get to talking and help them. It’s a passion for me…my purpose, other than my family, that is.
Over the next few posts I will be focusing on two athletes that Kurt has worked with: Earl Cureton, two-time NBA Champion and Raj Bhavsar, 2008 Olympic gymnastics bronze medalist.
To learn more about what Kurt is doing check out his website http://www.fromglorydays.com/