November 2023 AOTM: Michael WillettNov 01, 2023
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 socials and weekly newsletter to learn more about the athlete, what motivates them, and how to contribute to their cause.
Our November Athlete of the Month is Michael Willet!
Michael is a former Division I football student-athlete from the University of Central Florida. During his years as a Knight, Michael earned his scholarship in one year and won three conference championships.
Since his playing years, Michael has created WalkOn Nation with the purpose of redefining athletic identity. Through this work, he helps student athletes realize who they are as a person outside of their sport.
Michael specializes in helping athletes find their identity outside of athletics while they are still playing. He believes the conversation has to be started while athletes are still in their sport so that they can still use their resources to their advantage. Michael facilitates interactive workshops at numerous universities, foundations, and companies throughout the country teaching athletes that they are ENHANCED not defined by their status.
Through his workshops, he helps both student athletes discover who they are outside of their sports, and supports staff training for those who work with student athletes to build more cohesive environments within athletic departments.
Their student athlete workshops work with individuals to gain awareness of what their identity looks like outside of their sport. They focus on strategies for self improvement and building confidence to execute their goals. Their different workshops include Athletic Identity, who are you outside of the jersey, Integrity, establishing your own core values, and Brand Building, the legacy you want to leave behind.
For staff and athletic department administrators, Michael and WalkOn Nation aim to create a cohesive environment that is conducive to both the efficiency of the staff and their roles, as well as for the development of the student athletes they work with.
Some of the recent takeaways from workshop attendees highlight the message Michael aims to share, that athletes should be enhanced by their athletic status, not defined.
"We are so much bigger than our sport. I am capable and deserving of an amazing life outside of athletics."
"My identity as an athlete doesn't have to encompass my entire identity. There are more things to live for than lacrosse."
Thank you Michael for all your work and efforts to promote conversations for student athletes around their identity and being more than just an athlete. Want to have Michael and WalkOn Nation visit your campus? Learn more and reach out here.
MICHAEL x TACKLE WHAT'S NEXT
We were lucky enough to have Michael participate in a panel around The Power of Relationships at our Athlete Entrepreneurship Summit last year.
Alongside fellow current and former athletes, Michael highlighted the importance relationships have played in his journey from athlete to entrepreneur. He reminded us not to let pride get in the way of creating valuable relationships with others. And he also shared his advice around not letting fear keep us from introducing ourselves to others.
Michael emphasized the importance of not just creating relationships, but being genuine in those relationships. It’s not the quantity of relationships you have in your network, but the quality that matters and can help you grow.
“The thing I do to build relationships is being genuine. When you're true to yourself, the relationship resonates and builds on its own. When you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, it’s obvious that you're networking and looking for a transactional goal. With anything in life, small steps lead to big goals. If you go big first, you'll miss every time. You have to make short steps and relationships are just small steps. A good relationship opens so many doors.”
The panel shared some great advice around networking, reaching out to create relationships on LinkedIn, and more.
We also welcomed Michael on Timeout with TWN earlier this year to talk about what inspired him to create WalkOn Nation and to share his advice for athletes on navigating what’s next in life after sports.
Michael talked about the importance of having conversations with athletes around their identities outside of sports. He shared his own experience around preparing for life after the game and how, after getting injured, he realized that he needed to take advantage of the opportunity to explore his other interests while he still had access to his university's resources.
“Most athletes don’t go through figuring out their identities until they can’t go any further with their careers. And by that point, there are bigger needs, like getting a job, making money - identity is last on that priority list. So I knew I needed to take advantage of seeking out my identity while I was still in school.”
Michael also focused on the opportunities that athletes have while in their playing careers to prioritize themselves and make time to explore other areas of interest. He emphasized the access and opportunities that active athletes have, and the limited time window to take advantage of those opportunities.
His advice for athletes around figuring out their identities and what comes next? Spend time with yourself.
“Growth begins with isolation. You’ve got to spend time with yourself to find yourself. So many times we look for ourselves validated in social media. I didn’t truly grow until I was really on my own, and realized I had to deal with myself. You have to truly understand that this is authentic me, and I love authentic me. And somebody else won’t and that’s ok.”
Thank you Michael, for coming on Timeout with TWN and being a part of our Athlete Entrepreneurship Summit. We loved these conversations and know others benefited from your insights!
OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL WILLETT:
Why did you create WalkOn Nation?
I created WalkOn Nation so athletes do not have to feel what I felt after athletics was over for me. I was lost because my identity was so rooted in athletics. Student-athletes struggle with athletic-identity, both in and out of their sport. This struggle leads to an unfulfilment in their lives that leaves our athletes lost. I was one of those athletes, so I have made it my mission to make sure no athlete has to feel that again.
What did being an athlete teach you about the work you are doing now?
Being an athlete taught me how to be adaptable and resilient. And that helps me so much as an entrepreneur. No one really tells you everything that comes with being an entrepreneur. There’s a lot of things you have to learn and adapt to on the fly, but I feel like athletics prepared me for this life. I’m so accustomed to maneuvering things on the fly because of athletics that it made what I’m doing now almost a seamless transition.
What is the most important thing you did for yourself to start planning for life outside of sports?
Throwing myself in the fire. You don’t learn from the background, I forced myself to get uncomfortable and learn on the go. If I didn’t do that I’d still be stuck to this day.
When and how did you decide you were ready to make the transition out of sports?
I didn’t decide, my injury decided my transition for me. It was not planned, but I had to play with the cards I was dealt and honestly, I wouldn’t trade this hand for anything.
What advice do you have for athletes around moving on from sports to their next chapter?
You’re more ready for the next chapter than you think. You’ve learned all the skills you need to be successful in the next chapter from your sport. Trust in yourself and don’t let anyone else dictate your self-worth.
What has been the most rewarding part of entering life after the game?
The most rewarding part has been betting on myself and succeeding. I had nothing but faith and the belief that what I am doing was meant to be and it’s rewarding to see I can prove myself right.
Thank you again to Michael for continuing to share your experience, your journey and your work with us. The impact you are making on student athletes is so important, and we appreciate the message you push to athletes about prioritizing themselves and allowing themselves to be enhanced by their athletic identity. We’re proud to highlight Michael as our November Athlete of the Month.