A notebook with the words "My Plan" on it

For most athletes, the years playing in college is when they’ll have the most attention on them. They are likely to compete in front of hundreds (if not thousands!) of spectators, have their games televised and appear in media coverage. They may be role models for aspiring junior athletes, sign autographs for fans, and/or participate in post-game interviews. It’s an exciting time in an athlete’s playing career!

However, being a college athlete is also likely to be one of the busiest times of their lives. These young adults are managing the schedules of two full-time jobs: one of a college student pursuing a higher education degree and the other of an elite athlete training their bodies and minds for peak performance. College athletes have most of their waking hours scheduled for them, with little free time to themselves throughout the day. And the more high profile the athlete, sport and/or school, the less free time they are likely to have to pursue outside interests.

This brings me to a frustration expressed by many student-athletes in the first two years of NIL: The additional time commitment and workload seems impossible to fit into their already overloaded schedules. Especially while in the first years, successfully pursuing NIL opportunities requires strategic planning, persistence, and a “go-getter” attitude. These young adults are essentially becoming entrepreneurs running the business of themselves, and similar to the struggles of entrepreneurship, many won’t find the NIL success that they hoped for. But for those who do, they can reap the benefits for years after their playing careers have come to an end.

So, how can one position themselves for meaningful NIL opportunities? Spending time making a plan before becoming a time-strapped college athlete is a great place to start! Ready to jump in? Let’s go.

Step 1: Identifying YOU

Defining YOU Now
Besides being an athlete, who else are you? What else do you like to do? When people think about you, what do you think comes to mind first? What words do they use to describe you? What are your personal values? What are your unique traits? What makes you different from your teammates? What makes you standout from your classmates?

Thinking About Future YOU
Aside from being successful in your sport, what else would you like to be known for in the future? What inspires you? If you could have a child look up to you for something, what would you like that “something” to be? Who are your role models and why? How would you like to emulate them?

Speculating About Professional YOU
What majors are you considering? What industries are interesting to you or that you could see yourself working in? What are five potential career paths you could see yourself pursuing after your playing career comes to a close?

Of course these are likely to evolve and it’s perfectly normal to not be sure! This is only a starting point.

Step 2: Brainstorming Your “Why”

Why do you want to pursue NIL opportunities? How do you envision it helping you reach your long-term goals?

While it’s perfectly acceptable to have “make money” be your top driver, I’d encourage you to identify additional reasons for wanting to engage in NIL. Why, you ask? Because just like an entrepreneur launching a new business, getting to a level of compensation that you’d like takes time. Without additional motivation, you’re more likely to burn out and quit before seeing any benefits.

Here are some examples of amazing “Whys” I’ve heard from athletes thus far:

  • Learn about myself
  • Explore entrepreneurship
  • Grow my professional network
  • Develop business skills
  • Build my resume

Step 3: Understanding Your NIL Opportunity

While athletes endorsing products through social media have been the most common NIL deal so far, there are many other ways to monetize your NIL. You can engage with your community, run camps/clinics, coach private lessons, start a podcast, launch an e-commerce site, amongst many others.

The route you choose should take into account what interests you, how much time you’re willing to invest (starting a business is NOT the same as doing a brand deal!), and with your purpose(s) for engaging in the NIL space in mind.

Step 4: Creating Your Roadmap

Now that you’ve spent time thinking about who you are and who you want to be, your motivators for wanting to pursue NIL opportunities, and how you want to take advantage of NIL, it’s time to make a plan.

Create a roadmap that extends until your anticipated college graduation year with who you want to be, both personally and professionally, at the end. Now, by incorporating your NIL “whys,” aspects of the “current you,” and how you want to pursue NIL opportunities, build out 10+ steps (with SMART goals) to get you there.

Is this an easy task? Absolutely not. Will it be 100% accurate? Not even close. Is this a great exercise to get you thinking about what NIL can do for you beyond compensation? YES.

For a great example of this in action, watch this TikTok.

Step 5: Putting Your Plan Into Action

Resources that can help:

Best of luck on your NIL journey! Keep moving forward, celebrate small wins, and most importantly, enjoy the process!

About the Author: Michelle Meyer is a former NCAA athlete and D1 volleyball coach who founded NIL Network in 2020 as a hub of resources to help athletes, coaches, and administrators navigate this new era of collegiate athletics. She became the fifth NIL Administrator hired in the country when she accepted the position at San Diego State University in November 2021.