16 Athletes. 6 mentors. 4 days. 1 experience.
*Not to be confused with the Pregame Podcast series, which if you haven’t already listened to, you should pause here and do that*
Let me give a quick breakdown of how this even came into existence. Nebraska Athletic Department’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, DaWon Baker, said, “Hey, Candice, you should definitely apply for this retreat.” He told me more about it and sent me the link to the application. I saw that I needed to create a video for the application process and was like, “Uhhh, are you sure I should do this?”
I complete the application (bloopers of that video available upon request), and ten days later, I got the acceptance email. I was at our athletic department’s annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit when the email came through, so I immediately found DaWon after and said, “LOOK!” And my next question became, “Uhhh, now what?”
In the months leading up to the retreat, my fellow Game Changers and I received monthly homework assignments (mock interview, webinars, etc.) and ongoing responsibilities such as selecting a book to read from the provided list and studying the individuals who would be at the retreat. This pregame experience helped as much as I allowed it to. Could I have better prepared myself? Absolutely. But doing anything in this time set me up to do well, especially during the Dinners of Influence.
First Quarter – June 20
At 6 a.m., I sent a text to Mom and Dad, “Taking off now. LNK->ATL.”
So. Tired. BUT I had landed in ATL. Called Jacques for shuttle information. Met Jacques and PJ. Headed to the hotel. Check-in. Okay, this was all a normal conference-y type weekend so far. Now came the fun part. Christmas came in June with our presents from Adidas. Yoga mat, 2 shoes, backpack, shorts, polo, socks, leggings, and tank all my size, all ready for me.
This was my first impression of the retreat at this point. In this room, I met some of the people I would be with all weekend, and we shared jokes over Chick-Fil-A within minutes. I hauled my new wardrobe back to my room and texted fellow Game Changer Bri, “I’m in room 336, where are you?” She was at my door literally fifteen seconds later, and I was greeted with a hug and a shared excitement to be where we were.
Y’all are probably thinking, “Okay, that’s nice. She made a friend.” But I will emphasize this now; these people are family. Good people know good people, and we all sensed it from the very beginning.
That afternoon we made our way to the retreat house. Still on the theme of first impressions—wow. The classroom was so cool, and we were greeted by the OGs (Original GameChanging Cohort), our mentors, and everyone else there to help us. We go around making introductions of staff and then ourselves and all seems simple, but everything was done with intention.
Our first session was with Dr. Collin Williams of RISE, and it was probably my favorite (the presentations were all great), as well as an intentional environment setting for the retreat. I think that before you can really learn about other things, you should know about yourself and be comfortable talking about yourself, and try your best to understand yourself. I thought this was a great presentation to learn just that.
Next was dinner time. This was our first impression of food at the retreat (other than Chick-Fil-A, but that was a given first meal since we were in Atlanta). *insert fire emoji*
Ending the first day, we had another presentation (Dr. Turner, you are great) and a meeting with our mentors. I admit this may be a tad biased, but I fully believe that Bri, David, and I had the best mentor. Will continually showed us that, if we prepare well and take advantage of the situations we are in, we will get the most out of experiences. This first meeting was just the beginning.
Remember how my flight left at 6 a.m. and I was “so. tired.”? It did not even matter anymore. I was where I needed to be, and it was such a great feeling. I did, however, sleep very well that night.
Day 1, you da best.
Second Quarter – June 21
At 6 a.m., I thought to self, “Wow…yoga…yay…”
Don’t get me wrong, Trap Yoga was awesome, and it was a GREAT start to the day. But you could not have told me I would feel that way at 6 a.m.
Day 2 was solid. We started the day hearing from industry professionals on our Emerging Careers in Sports Panel. Followed by the best mentor’s presentation on Networking and the Professional Presence.
After lunch, we had site visits that (mostly) related to what each of us wants to do later in life. My group went to Jackson | Spalding, and we were treated to a tour of the office space and two panels. The first panel was a group of former student-athletes who now work at Jackson | Spalding, and they spoke on the transition phase out of athletics as well as the advantages they have over others by having been an athlete. As a recent graduate, I took a lot of notes here.
The second panel was a group of people who work on the Jackson | Spalding’s sports team. They spoke to us on what’s is like working with and for sports teams and sporting events. I did learn some information here as well, but what was most interesting to me was that only one person was on both panels. It demonstrated that you did not have to have been an athlete to work in sports. One of the former student-athlete panelists wants to work in sports eventually, but is not currently. He advised that we do the job we want to do in any industry instead of a job we don’t want to do in the industry we want to be in.
Upon returning from the site visits, we got ready for the first Dinner of Influence. I was unsure of what to expect during these dinners. Due to my pregaming, I knew who would be at my dinner table, but I was unsure what the conversation would be like. Moral of the story: I didn’t know…until I knew. Here’s what I mean.
Along with two other Game Changers, I checked-in at the dinner, and we were the first people there (other than staff, of course). Slowly, people were arriving and it was turning into networking hour, which I loved. While not everyone feels the same way, I am very comfortable walking up to someone new and saying , “Hi, my name is Candice. This is what I do. Who are you?”
Through this, I connected with industry professionals who were not at my table and got real insights on what to expect. This continued throughout cocktail hour and the meal, as Will did very well moderating the conversation and asking our guests very intentional questions. This experience really opened my eyes to how many people actually WANT to help young women and minorities break into the field. We are so often told that we have to do things for ourselves and that is not always the case. The guests at the Dinner of Influence were more than willing to pull out their phones and tell you everyone they know who might be able to help you at all. I didn’t know that, but not because I didn’t think it was possible. I was just never exposed to a setting that made this possible. This dinner did just that.
This weekend sounds great because it was. It wasn’t until the end of Day 2 that I felt even a tiny bit out of place. And wording it like that is even a bit of a stretch. Maria and some of the Game Changers were doing the Electric Slide to the song “Before I Let Go,” and as much as I wanted to join…I didn’t know the dance or the song. In fact, I just had to text a fellow Game Changer and ask, “What was the song y’all were dancing to that one time….?”
While I say this made me feel out of place in the moment, it was only two minutes of my life. And I have learned in all of my experiences that I will not be comfortable all the time, and that is okay.
Day 2, you were good to me.
Third Quarter – June 22
At 6 p.m., I thought to myself, “Is this really ending tomorrow?”
By Day 3, we were really in the flow of things—playful joking, lots of laughs, and really learning about each other and the world of working in sports. The morning started with breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants then we headed to the golf course. This was…an experience. As an athlete, I like being good at things, and I was not good at this right away, or even kind of good at the end. However, the instructors were great, and I did enjoy myself.
After the golf outing, we returned to the house for some great food and presentations from Dr. Shaw and Megan Perry. During Dr. Shaw’s presentation we got really serious talking about fears that we have as we begin our careers. It was important for me to recognize that yes, I am fearful, but this is what I can do to help combat that fear. The intimacy and safe space already set in the previous days was an added benefit to the vulnerability displayed here.
That night was the second Dinner of Influence. While very similar to the first night, we had a smaller dinner table the second night. I enjoyed the closer connections and more detailed stories this allowed. I also spoke with people that I had been looking forward to connecting with. Walking up to a stranger with the new assurance I had been developing over the weekend was an unmatchable feeling.
Day 3, you made me more comfortable and confident.
Fourth Quarter – June 23
My 6 p.m. text to Mom and Dad, “At the airport :/”
The last day felt like a wrap up, and it ended great. Jarrod Barnes spoke to us on maintaining a championship mindset while Maria shared her own story with us. We had a final meeting with our mentors (BaggCrew to Infinity) where we shared a bit of what we learned from each other in the few days.
The retreat ended with a BBQ lunch and reflections of the retreat from each Game Changer and what to expect from them in the future. Several people vowed to come back and help in the future…more power to them. I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner let alone where my career path will lead me in the next year.
However, I did (and still do) promise to be the best product of the Game Changing Retreat and Winning Edge. I will do my best to quite literally change the game for women and minorities and women minorities entering the industry. I will leave my mark wherever I am and let it be known how I got there.
Day 4, you made saying goodbye hard.
Post-Game – June 24 & Beyond
I was pretty sad to return to Lincoln. Upon returning home from the retreat, I reread all my notes, went through all the business cards I received, and began writing some notes to people that I met over the 4 days. In doing those activities, I started my immediate reflection. Even writing this is a continued reflection of what I learned and how I can use it in everyday life.
The retreat left me with more than just professional development advice and contacts in the industry. Yes, the information was great and very helpful to the start of my career, but the experience as a whole was much more than that.
I have confidence in what I am doing for a career. It has become less of, “Well, you know it is hard as a woman in the field,” and more of, “Wow, you are going to go far. How can I help?” And it’s not just what other people are telling me that gives me that confidence. It has been meeting and hearing from other individuals who look like me that have had success.
I have a new friend in Noor. We competed for the same university for two years, seeing each other only in passing and at lunch time. I never had a single conversation with her prior to this experience, and now that we are back in town, we have had a few meals together and even spent the 4th of July holiday together.
I also have 15 other people to celebrate with. We all celebrate things like Jaiden’s girlfriend surprising him or Chelsea getting a job with the NFLPA. These people are family.
Was the retreat perfect? No. Could I have done more to prepare or get more out of my experience? Probably. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
16 athletes. 6 mentors. 4 days. 1 experience. 1 huge, motivated, happy family.
Candice is a 2019 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she earned her Master of Arts in Business Administration with a specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics. She will soon begin a Player Engagement internship working with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Will Baggett was her retreat mentor!