September 2022 AOTM: Jonathan Van Horn, SHIFT

athlete of the month Sep 05, 2022

Welcome back to TWN’s Athlete of the Month! Each month we are highlighting athletes in our network to share what they have accomplished outside of sports, their contribution to the athletic community and more. Make sure to check out our weekly newsletter to learn more about the athlete, what motivates them, and how to contribute to their cause.

Our September Athlete of the Month is Jonathan Van Horn, Executive Director of Athletes In Action and the Founder of SHIFT! 

Jonathan was a multi-sport athlete competing in soccer and basketball at Ohio Wesleyan University. Jonathan currently serves as AIA Executive Director of Pro Soccer. Over the past 15 years has mentored and invested in professional athletes and coaches; specializing in integration of faith and sport, athlete transition, building character and team culture. He trains and resources chaplains and character coaches throughout Major League Soccer, National Women's Soccer League, the United Soccer League Championship and USL League 1.

Jonathan is also the founder of SHIFT, a movement to support athletes about what it looks like to leverage their athletic transition by understanding and identifying who they are and their passions to successfully navigate transition and maximize growth, development, and opportunities at the next level. He’s written SHIFT: The Athlete's Playbook, and created the SHIFT Course to support athletes in navigating their transition out of sports.

 In Episode 8 of Timeout with TWN Jonathan shared his journey through soccer and how his love of sports has influenced his work now in life after the game. He talked about his work supporting pro players with their lives off the pitch and what inspired him to do more for the athlete community.

“Athletes should realize that who you are as a person, as a human, far outweighs your performance. Your value is outside of their performance. Who you are as a person is greater than what you do on the field or off.”

Jonathan was also a part of our Prioritize YOU Summit back in April of 2022, where he spoke on our Power of Story panel. He spoke to our audience about the importance of learning from the negative experience in our lives and understanding that those milestones don’t define us, but rather should be learning experiences for us. 

“We're not defined by our past, it’s just part of our story”. 

 Here's our full interview with Jonathan Van Horn

1. Why did you create SHIFT? 

I was mentoring and working with professional soccer players for about 6 years and there was a common theme continuing to emerge about what athletes were doing after they retired. Usually the answer was, “I don’t know!” On the business side of sport, as soon as an athlete leaves a team for somewhere, they are forgotten for the most part because there is a new player coming in to take their spot. As I journeyed with athletes regardless of where they were playing, there was a lack of support, equipping, or training for athletes beyond the game. I began to dig a little deeper into player associations or other non-profits available to athletes and there were very little resources provided. So SHIFT started as a concept and idea that I was going through with athletes in a one-on-one mentoring relationship with the goal of playing a role in the solution to this problem of assisting athletes to life after sport. 

2. What did being an athlete teach you about the work you are doing now?

Hard work and focus are important. You may not see or experience success or the dividends of those character skills right away, but as you journey forward you will see and experience the pay-offs in time. Having a clear vision of what you are pursuing gives you clarity, the power of your “no,” and the freedom to pivot as needed as you go after that vision. 

3. What is the most important thing you did for yourself to start planning for life outside of sports

Intentional growth and development as a leader. I was taught early in life from my dad, that everything lives and dies on leadership. As leaders, it is our choice on whether or not we continue to grow, develop, and go after “better” in life. So whether I was starting something for the first time or I was a seasoned veteran, going after “better” was key.

4. When and how did you decide you were ready to make the transition out of sports?

Honestly, never! I have always enjoyed and looked for ways to stay within sport. Only difference now is how I am experiencing sport each day. For years it was in competition as an athlete. Now, I am still engaged with sport, but more in the mindset, mentality, and holistic development and growth of athletes and coaches. Sport is where I feel comfortable and at home, and what I have experienced and learned within sport, has afforded me the opportunity to step into various other arenas with a unique perspective.

5. What advice do you have for athletes around moving on from sports to their next chapter? 

Every step we take in life is preparing us for the present and the future. Our past experiences, lessons learned, stories we have shape who we are today. The beauty of our present is that the choices we make now are clarifying the direction and vision for what’s to come in the future. What’s exciting is that we have a choice! As you choose what’s next for you, step into it fully, take risks, make mistakes, learn, test, try, do, and repeat. Don’t buy into the lie that life is about the pursuit of one mountain top. Being an athlete and competing at the highest level in your sport is only one mountain and the inspiring reality and beauty of life is that we are given the opportunity to climb many mountains over the course of our lives! 

Thank you Jonathan for all you do for the athlete community. We are proud to recognize you as our September Athlete of the Month. Visit the SHIFT website here to learn more and be sure to grab your copy of SHIFT: The Athlete’s Playbook today!