By Emily McMillan
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Sports are never over.
But for K-State volleyball player, Taylor Johnson, it’s a reality she is preparing to live out this December.
The Grand Island, Nebraska native has grown up around sports for as long as she can remember, her family’s home has a horse race track, and does not want the end of her college career to be the end of her career in sports.
“My career as a student-athlete is almost over, but I'm going to live out each day until it’s over in December.” Johnson said. “I don't want to stop playing. I'm going to immerse myself into a career in sports and never stop playing.”
This past June, Johnson and 200 of her fellow college athletes were invited to Indianapolis for the NCAA Career in Sports Forum. As a nominee for this forum, Johnson had the chance to experience what a career in sports would look like.
“I was very blessed to have learned from some of the best involved in sports,” Johnson said. “I learned to network, and was given the chance to meet with some of the most prominent people in sports. I learned that as student-athletes, we must be very grateful for what we have in the U.S., as no other country has college sports like we do. I also learned to be prideful of the skills gained from athletics that will be transferrable to the real world.”
Knowing that she would want to pursue a career in sports before the Forum, Johnson sought out ways to achieve her goal.
“Taylor had visited with me, and Cori Pinkett, our Director of Life Skills, about her interest in possibly pursuing a career in college athletics,” said Jill Shields, K-State’s Senior Associate Athletic Director in Academics and Student Services. “The NCAA Sports Forum is a great opportunity to expose current student-athletes to the vast array of possibilities within athletics, and she jumped at the chance to fill out the application. The selection process is competitive, so her selection was certainly earned.”
Johnson`s leadership on and off the court has shown her head coach – longtime Wildcat mentor Suzie Fritz – and people around her that she is suited for a career in sports.
“I think with her leadership qualities, she has embraced her strengths now, and her leadership qualities have emerged more this season than we have ever seen,” said Fritz.
Throughout that weekend a lot of things stood out to Johnson, but the most important were doing what you can do to get where you want to go, and also being “big” where you are at.
“‘Find your fit and make big time where you are’ [Frank Keenan – a famous film actor from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s],” Johnson said. “This phrase really stuck out to me because in sports you may start at the bottom, but if you correlate your values with the job you select and give it your all, whether you are the janitor or president, people will notice you and the results will be in your favor.”
Johnson`s growth as a player and as a person has not gone unnoticed in the K-State sports community.
“Taylor has become more confident in her ability to lead, be more vocal, and has already utilized training from the Sports Forum with her team,” Shields said. “She had a leader on StrengthsQuest, who she met at the Forum, flown in to hold training sessions for the volleyball team and did most of the legwork for the trip. She sold the idea to her coaches and department staff and worked until she got the job done. Her entire team benefited from her efforts.”
The qualities of leading and finding a way to get things done are something Johnson has always strived toward.
“The leadership part of it was the biggest thing,” Fritz said. “Taylor is one of those people who wants to apply what she has learned and be able to bring it to our team. She did not want to just learn it for herself, but she wanted to bring it back to our team.
“We really saw her leadership, and she did some really cool stuff as part of her leadership classes. They got in to the StrengthsQuest and Taylor took it another step and got in touch with a facilitator out of California. We brought her in and worked with the team, and that was all Taylor. Just her willingness to step forward to say let’s try this or go in this direction. I would say her leadership has developed dramatically.”
Johnson’s overall goal is to help provide the best athletic experience for college athletes and to make the thing she loves come in to a career.
“I want to work in sports, and as of now, I have many interests. I would love to work for a race track (horses) and be the marketing coordinator and or manager,” Johnson said, “I have interests in college athletics and would love to serve the athletes to allow and enable them the success on and off the court whether that be involved in leadership development, Life Skills, Fan Experience at the college level, or at an event center. I think the highest of highs would be to work at the NCAA national office in championships and alliances or membership and student athlete affairs - leadership development. Another high would be to work with the International Olympic Committee.”
Not every college athlete has the chance to have a career in sports after college, but for Johnson, that is a dream that she takes very seriously and wants to make happen. She is doing everything possible to make sure that for her, sports are never over.