Charles Way played professional football for the New York Giants as a grinding halfback for five seasons before his knees gave way and he moved to the front office. As the Director of Player Development, Way has spent more than a decade working alongside players and coaches to make some of the NFL’s best a little better. Focused on helping players make the most of their professional careers, Way asserts an approach that is dedicated to supporting players while they play by preparing them for when they’re done.
The NFL has taken an intriguing stance on player development in recent years. As Way explains, “The league is doing a great job in providing alternatives beyond their playing careers.” Through programs that introduce players to careers in broadcasting, business management, entrepreneurship, and others, the NFL is preparing players for life after football. Similarly, Way has developed and introduced a program where players for the Giants can essentially shadow executives at varying companies. From interviewing to experiencing day-to-day operations, players can become familiar with a work environment outside the locker room.
Why would the Giants or the NFL take time to prepare celebrity athletes for careers outside athletics? Way comfortably manages two distinct arguments. Initially he takes something of a moral stance, saying, “We’ve been playing football for two-thirds of our lives”, and continues, “When you take that away, it hurts.” In short, there’s an ethical opportunity to support players who know little else than playing football when they transition off the field and into an office. There is a depression that sets in when a career ends, and the NFL has taken the stance that it’s going to support players as they sort out life off the field. But Way works another angle too, saying that, “They will never know what a leader in society looks like if they’ve never been around it.” And there’s the takeaway.
For Charles Way, developing players on the Giants by introducing them to career options in broadcasting and business is not simply a chance to create the next Michael Strahan. By taking players out of the environment they’ve grown accustomed to, Way stretches them and the players grow. In working alongside executives in corporate environments, players broaden their understanding of professionalism, leadership, and teamwork while building confidence off the field. These programs introduce players to professional relationships that extend beyond player and coach or captain and rookie, and provide them with a more comprehensive understanding of life outside of football. This broader understanding not only prepares players for future careers, it also prepares them to be more well rounded leaders and followers when they get back to the field.
By introducing professional football players to professional life outside of football, Charles Way and the NFL may be making better professional football players. Providing examples of leadership and excellence that extend off the field, may keep players on the field and help to make professional careers in football that much more fulfilling.
Dan Leidl and Joe Frontiera are a managing partners of Meno Consulting and co-authors of the book Team Turnarounds, published by Jossey-Bass. Email them with comments and ideas for future pieces, or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.