by Cassady Thompson

A high-ranking official in the National Collegiate Athletic Association had a simple message for students at the University of West Georgia - keep reading.

“The best leaders in the world read the latest information about their industry every day,” said Dee Dee Merritt, associate director of leadership development at NCAA. “I know it is a daunting task as you are in the middle of your education right now, but do not become complacent. Stay up to date on the latest and greatest thing. If you do that, you can become the person who is writing about that latest and greatest thing.”

Dee Dee Merritt

Merritt was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual Sports Career Expo, held by the UWG Sport Management Society. She became a member of the NCAA in December 2016, leaving a position in the athletic department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

While holding various positions at the university, she knew it needed an impactful life skills program and started the school's Student Athlete Affairs Program.

“Trying to start the program from scratch, I knew I needed to reach out and see if there were any organizations that were able to provide assistance,” Merritt said. “That’s how I ended up coming across the leadership development segment at the NCAA.”

The first convention she attended was an education and training symposium. While there, she captured the importance of professional development.

“What we do is provide professional career development and some personal development, in the form of leadership, to our members,” Merritt said. “Our programming stretches to reach people from student athletes, to interns and graduate assistants, to athletic administration. We even provide programming to college chancellors.”

According to Merritt, the NCAA has approximately 40 programs that are taught in-person, as well as online, where others can be reached through learning modules. The group consists of approximately 500,000 athletes, not counting administrators, who are provided with a separate program.

“Our goal is to equip our members with the tools and education that they need to be successful,” Merritt explained. “In our student athlete program, we do a lot of leadership development, with the goal being that the student athletes who are chosen to attend our programs take the information back to campus and implement the skills and strategies that they learned — not only within their own programs, but within the athletic department as a whole.”

To explain the value of professional development, Merritt expressed her view on the subject of learning, seeing it as infinite.

Students seen attending the event

“Learning is lifelong,” Merritt said. “It does not end with graduating at UWG. To be the proficient, top-level expert in your field, you are going to have to find ways to continue to learn. That’s where professional development comes into play. It will allow you to stay competent and grow with those industry experts around you, and it will push you to the point where you are able to share your knowledge with others within your profession and use that as a way to give back.”

To follow, she defined the diverse ways one can develop professionally, such as a career fair, a post-graduation symposium, a convention, a webinar, or even job shadowing.

“It can look how you want it to look,” Merritt stated. “You have to be creative with the types of professional development that you undertake. You don’t want to do the same things over and over again.”

Merritt touched upon the importance of networking.

“There are a lot of people that network wrong,” Merritt said. “I have been to multiple networking events where people have a stack of business cards, and their goal is to make sure that everyone gets one. Most people will walk away and discard it. I want you to be strategic. The information you need is at your fingertips. Do your research on who is attending and what position they work in. You are making yourself a valuable and memorable connection. Make yourself worthy, it will circle back to you.”

Posted on March 22, 2018