Strategies for Success featured, from left: Olympic gold medalist Charlie Greene (moderator), softball superstar Peaches James and former Husker baseball letterwinner/major league player Shawn Buchanan.
Photo by Nate Olsen/Nebraska Communications

The Road to Great Lives, Great Jobs, Great Experiences

By NU Athletic Communications

Husker Legends Buchanan, James Share Wisdom

Eichorst: Now’s the Time to Strike Right Balance

Randy York N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

Gallup, Inc., recently released "Understanding Life Outcomes of Former NCAA Student-Athletes", a 12-page report to learn how former NCAA student-athletes compare with their non-student-athlete peers. The Gallup-Purdue Index Survey interviewed 1,670 former student-athletes and 22,813 non-student-athletes from the same institutions, using the same range and median in age.

Former student-athletes who received a bachelor’s degree between 1970 and 2014 are leading other college graduates in four of five well-being elements in a Gallup study that measured long-term life outcomes for former student-athletes. The results were intriguing enough that Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst – the Big Ten’s only voting member on the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee – asked all Nebraska Athletics’ department leaders to share the executive summary with their respective coaching and support staffs.

In a nutshell, former student-athlete graduates thrived better than non-student-athletes in four key aspects of overall well-being – 1) Purpose Well-Being: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals; 2) Social Well-Being: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life; 3) Community Well-Being: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community; 4) Physical Well-Being: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis. The only category shared equally among former student-athletes and non-student-athletes was Financial Well Being: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.

Leaders of the 12-page study emphasize that well-being is not only about being happy or financially well off, nor is it synonymous with physical health. It's about the interaction and interdependency among many aspects of life, such as finding fulfillment in daily work and interactions, having strong social relationships and access to resources people need, feeling financial secure, being physically healthy and taking part in a true community.

The NCAA Used Two Primary Questions to Seek Answers Through Its Research

1) How do former student-athletes and non-student-athletes compare on measures of well-being? 2) Are there well-being differences between former student-athletes in football and men’s basketball compared with former student-athletes who took who part in other sports?

To help the NCAA answer those two questions, plus eight additional questions, the Gallup-Purdue Index analyzed outcomes in three broad categories:

  • Great Lives: Well-Being
  • Great Jobs: Workplace Engagement
  • Great Experiences: Alumni Attachment

To reinforce the research, my mission was to find one Nebraska male student-athlete and one Husker female student-athlete to share their respective thoughts about why the NCAA well-being poll reached certain conclusions. I found two model Nebraska student-athletes who recently participated in a Strategies for Success event to celebrate Black History Month – Shawn D. Buchanan, a four-time Nebraska baseball letterwinner (1988-91) and Peaches James, the most decorated pitcher in Nebraska's storied softball history (2001-04).

Buchanan, a Gary, Ind., native who's pictured below, went on to play for the Chicago White Sox and now serves as president and CEO of All American Meats in Omaha. A native of Papillion, Neb., James is a senior financial counselor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Both Husker leaders excelled academically, athletically, and in life. They shared their wisdom recently in Lincoln in a discussion led by Olympic gold-medal sprinter Charlie Greene, the first-ever track and field inductee into the 2015 University of Nebraska Athletics inaugural Hall-of-Fame class. All three are pictured above at a special event honoring Black History Month.

Buchanan, James Answer Five Questions to Reinforce the NCAA's Research

Their respective answers reflect the Gallup findings and showcase quintessential Nebraska student-athlete achievers who went on to enoy great lives, great jobs and great experiences.

Welcome to our conversation:

Q-1: Why do you think student-athletes thrive more than others in terms of purpose, social relationships, community engagement and physical well-being?

Buchanan: “In my opinion, structures are in place to make sure that we, as student athletes, are committed to each and every area listed above. We understand, prior to arriving on campus, what the expectations will be on the field of play, in the classroom, and in study hall. We understand the importance of community involvement, working out with teammates and the specifics of each student athlete’s individual sport, which in my case was baseball. All of the structure introduced and achieved in college prepares you for and helps lead you to a purposeful life. Socially, we are put into situations to bond with our teammates through workouts, eating together, studying together, traveling together and the ups and downs of competing and winning and losing. Community involvement encourages the student athlete to meet with young people and students across the state and within the conference through social interactive events such as camps that have a positive impact on those attending and provide role models to students and youth. Physical well-being is a key to healthy and productive mental health. As a student athlete, the early morning workouts, road trip workouts and fall conditioning adhered to in college led me to an understanding of how physical health contributes to success throughout the challenges of life.”

James: “As a former student-athlete, the values, the personal relationships, the drive to push myself physically and to be involved in my community has never changed. I believe these are traits that are instilled in many athletes, and they carry these throughout their lives. From the moment a student-athlete steps on campus, they know what their purpose is. They know what type of shape physically they must be in. They know that building relationships with their teammates is necessary. And they know being involved and giving back to the community is important. This is why so many student-athletes go on to live successful and meaningful lives.”

Q-2: Describe your student-athlete experience at Nebraska and how did it shape your life?

Buchanan: “I had incredible experiences at the University of Nebraska. The great people at the University made sure that structures and routines were in place, and executed to allow me the opportunity to be successful. I was afforded opportunities to compete with the very best in the country. All student-athletes in all sports, both male and female, supported one another through attending all sporting events.  I attended every event that I could on campus, as did the majority of other student-athletes. This created a strong bond within all sports that continued after college. When you support, encourage and develop confidence, absolutely anything and everything is possible and can be accomplished. Throughout my four-year career at the University of Nebraska, I understood the impact of learning that there is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’. I learned how to become an effective leader by strengthening my abilities in a variety of areas, including humility, discipline and becoming a good listener. I learned the importance of no excuses, being calm, the timing of showing emotion, being confident but not cocky, brave, competitively spirited, never risking the greater good for the team while being strong in endurance, mental and physical strength, recognizing limitations, taking ownership and speaking when it matters with nothing to prove and everything to prove.”  

James: “My decision to attend the University of Nebraska was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My coaches (Rhonda Revelle and Lori Sippel) were a huge part in shaping me into the person I am today. They worked not only to make me a better softball player, but also wanted me to succeed in every area of my life. They genuinely cared how I was doing as a person and that was very important for me. I learned how to be confident, yet remain humble, mentally tough and stay focused on the things I could control and be an effective leader. Those are all traits I use in my current professional career. The University was set up so that I could succeed in every area of my life: emotionally, physically, academically, and on the field. The University of Nebraska truly felt like family and I am forever grateful for the experience I had.”

Q-3: What are you doing professionally and why is it a positive experience?

Buchanan: “I’ve been blessed to be involved with a team of people that care, are smart and are committed. We started All American Meats, Inc., in 1996. We produce, distribute, and sell the finest beef products in the world. We are small in stature but we compete everyday with the largest beef and protein companies in the world. That alone makes us all work together, and we all buy in for the good of the team’s ultimate mission.”

James (pictured above when Nebraska retired her No. 42 softball jersey): “I’m currently the senior financial support counselor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I feel this position is a positive experience because it gives me the opportunity to interact with students from all walks of life. I also have the opportunity to influence the way they view money and aid them in making strong financial decisions that could have a significant impact on their future.”

Q-4: How meaningful is it to return to your alma mater and share your expertise?

Buchanan: “I’m truly thankful for everyday that I spend on the UNL campus. There are so many opportunities, so many friendships and so many positive encounters that I truly learned to be the person that I am. I also believe that it’s not what the university can do for me; it’s what I can do for the university.  If I can add value and be a contributor, I get great pleasure in doing so. I can certainly relate to some of the issues and concerns young people encounter, and I can share how I overcame obstacles that began in college. When you have confidence and desire, there are no limitations.”

James: “Any opportunity that I have to come back to my alma mater humbles me and thrills me. I hope that my positive experience can have an impact on the student-athletes of today. I want them to know what a blessing it is to be a Husker, so they take full advantage of the opportunities presented.”

Q-5: Can you share a motivational thought that might benefit others?

Buchanan: “Negative thinking patterns will prevent you from doing many of the things that you need to do in order to build the extreme confidence that’s required to live the life of your dreams. Beau Norton came to that conclusion in How to Be Confident and Destroy Low Self-Esteem.”

James: “I have an excerpt from Marianne Williamson that’s the epitome of what I was feeling as a student-athlete when I first arrived on campus at Nebraska. They’re words that literally changed my life. I learned not to fear being powerful. I learned that my playing small did not serve a positive purpose, and I learned not to be afraid to let my light shine because it empowered others around me. I encourage others to let their light shine as well with her excerpt: ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It’s our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You’re playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us…it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’”

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