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By: Chris Yandle, @ChrisYandle
I’ve heard this line a few hundred times in my career, even more so in the last few months. You’ll soon learn why. At a young age, I was enamored by sports. I wasn’t the athletically-inclined individual on the baseball field or the basketball court, but it consumed me. In middle school, reality set in: I had no aspirations of playing team sports at the high school, college, or professional levels. It was time for Plan B.
I had no idea what the hell Plan A was, and Plan B was certainly going to be a challenge. Then, opportunity happened.
The Legend of Stat Man
1996. I was a freshman at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma, Louisiana, and I was in my Geography I class. Our teacher, Scott Gauthreaux, was the head boys’ basketball coach, and the first 10 minutes of every class was spent discussing the previous day’s sports news. I didn’t talk for the first few weeks of class because I was shy, but these conversations opened me up more and more. During a Parent-Teacher Conference, Coach Gauthreaux suggested to my parents that I join the basketball team.
He saw something in me that I didn’t.
That opened the door. Then, the head football coach, head girls’ basketball coach, and head baseball coach approached me about helping their teams. It was something I enjoyed — I felt a part of something, I felt important.
For three years, I was known to many parents as “Stat Man” because I was the kid keeping their kids’ stats and submitting them to the local papers and TV stations.
Fast forward to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. As a college freshman in 2000, I walked into the Athletic Media Relations office (by accident) and my eyes were opened to a new portion of the industry I didn’t know existed. It started with humble beginnings as a game day stat keeper at home football, basketball, and baseball games. Easy money, free food, and I got a chance to keep my feet in the athletics realm.
Trial and Error
After my mom suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 2002, I opted to transfer to Louisiana-Lafayette in order to be closer to home. When I received my acceptance letter, I visited the athletic department with one mission: find a job. And that’s what I did. I walked into the Sports Information Department and I felt like I was given the keys to a new car. I never had any sport or design experience, but yet I was given the task of covering men’s and women’s tennis. I had no idea about anything tennis-related.
I thought to myself: “I can do it. I’ll figure this thing out.” Everything I learned during my three-year stint at Louisiana-Lafayette was trial-and-error. And by trial-and-error I mean a s#!@ load of failing and screwing up. I mean, epic fails.
I’ve never shared this portion of my career story. In my first semester at ULL, the sports editor of the school paper was copying-and-pasting our news releases verbatim, and placing them in the school paper with her byline. I was 20 and I was upset. So, I wrote a letter to the editor (the 2002 version of an angry Yelp! Review). In it, I expressed that there were people upset that this act of plagiarism was taking place on our campus and those doing the actual work were getting shafted (or language similar to that). I published it with a pseudonym and I thought the point would get across. Instead, my boss found out it was me and I was read the riot act. Why he didn’t fire me was beyond comprehension. Instead of firing me, he put me in charge of our office’s publications when I had ZERO publication experience.
In a round-about way, I owe him a debt of gratitude for using it as a teaching moment, and not a moment to completely destroy me.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and wiser
Since that moment, I’ve always upheld myself to higher standards than anyone else. From Lafayette to Marshall back to Lafayette, I quickly learned…there was more to learn.
A day after my daughter was born (A DAY AFTER!), I left my wife and newborn daughter at a hospital to move into our new house in Waco, Texas. Working at Baylor University was one of the greatest decisions of my life. I never thought I’d experience a bowl game, a Heisman Trophy winner, a national championship, and more. It was an amazing experience — one I will never forget.
I thought I was at the top. Then, I got the chance to become a director at Miami. Every day of my 24 months at The U was a learning experience. With the NCAA investigation and subsequent outcome, there was never a dull moment in Miami, and I am forever grateful to Chris Freet for believing in me.
If there was ever one career regret I had, it was that I wish I would have left the industry earlier. Instead of leaving for Georgia Tech, I should have left for a different direction. I came to that realization after my first month of consulting after my athletics career came to an apparent end.
I left my ego control me during these last 2–3 years, and I paid a dear price for it. It’s an empowering feeling to know why what happened to me happened and how to fix it. Sometimes it takes disappointment and heartbreak to open a door to something that makes you stronger and better for it in the end.
My completely unorthodox career path comes with a warning: No matter the goals you have or plans you dream about, nothing happens like you imagined. And that’s okay because you control your story. It’s yours to tell. Embrace it, own it, and make your story the best there is.
Everything happens for a reason.