How Breaking my routine as a college athlete paid off years later
Nick Martell, Brown University '11
Breakaway. Fast break. 2-on-1. 3-on-2.
Whatever your sport, however you describe it, there’s nothing more fun in sports than a broken play. A sloppy breakdown. A scramble.
Like most teams, we spent hours in the Brown University men’s lacrosse program at practice or in film to review, plan, re-review, and practice set plays designed by coaches. But scrambles are where the action, fun, and the goals are. Organized chaos – rife with uncertainty, but limited by the boundaries of the field and the control of the ref’s whistle.
The life of a college athlete in general is an extension of the set play mentality. From every individual day to the long seasons, every element of the experience is an almost military-like commitment to regimented order (with the exception of the occasional post-win party or a freshman initiation weekend).
After completing classes determined by our practice schedules, it begins. Arrive at the athletic center by 3pm. Equipment on by 3:08. Enjoy listening to some locker room chirping for 4 minutes, then ankle-taping at the trainer’s office — the same bandage weave as yesterday. Head to the field by 3:25 to avoid punishment sprints for lateness. Eight shots right hand, eight left. *Whistle.* Stretching — right hamstring, left, right quad, left, groin, right back twist, left. Then the scheduled practice begins, with the routine posted on the chalkboard. Time for lift – bench, squat, cleans, bench, tris, bench, repeat. Then film – one hour, starting with good clips, then bad, then the other team, defense, offense, and a scouting report for the next game. Whether game day or offseason skills session, there’s a plan, a schedule, and a routine to maximize efficiency of the 5-hour daily student-athlete commitment to ensure our pack is in sync.
To let this regimentation spill over into the student aspect of our lives would be a mistake, but it’s almost impossible to avoid. Limited schedules mean limited class options, so we take the ones with our teammates — same homework assignments, more efficiency. Brutal travel schedule? May as well opt for the easier major. And if we’re in the same classes, why not just live together? Same houses — same Sunday home-brewing plans, same sleep schedules, same microwavable nachos and Chobani flavors, same parties.
So break that routine. Scramble.
I didn’t say “take a risk” or repeat to you some variation of “the greatest risk in life is not taking one” — because taking a risk implies some major potential downside. But there is no downside here, just opportunity. It’s smaller than taking a risk, yet yields huge benefits down the line. The reason we follow the routine and schedule and commitment of a college athlete isn’t because we avoid risk, but because we’re too focused to look up and capitalize on the opportunities of the college campuses around us like they’re ground balls. We’re too routine-stuck to take a moment and try something different. A new class in which we’re the only athlete, a seminar on a subject we don’t know about. A summer abroad in a country we’ve never visited. And, eventually maybe, a post-college career we didn’t even know existed.
Looking back at my student-athlete career, I was fortunate: Breaking my routine a couple times paid off years later. My regret is not doing that a couple times more. I was the only one on my team taking a non-fiction creative writing class and the experience pushed me to realize how much I loved wrapping together my thoughts on paper. It was breaking my routine as a college athlete and diving into creative writing that helped me ultimately found MarketSnacks, a daily e-newsletter in which I write about Wall Street daily to make finance quick, clear, and entertaining for my fellow Millennials.
This professional decision to start the company outside my full-time job with a best friend completely in secret was actually somewhat of a risk – I was working at a bank at the time and having a “side hustle” was a violation of my role. But my passion for writing and the liberation I felt from breaking routine in college convinced me that this pursuit was worth it…potentially worth my full-time, reliable, well-paying bank job. Since then (ultimately with approval to continue running MarketSnacks) we’ve scaled MarketSnacks into a fully-monetized business reaching hundreds of thousands of readers daily, in addition to TV interviews on CBS, a 30 Under 30 nod by Forbes, and more. Going back, I doubt I would never have had the opportunity to consistently be on live TV if it weren’t for taking that writing class in college.
MarketSnacks then also led to my interest in entrepreneurship and ultimately scaling the business further while working for Endeavor, an organization I’m passionate about that supports entrepreneurs across emerging markets. While I did not love my first job out of college at a bank, “scrambling” to launch MarketSnacks led to incredible opportunities in media, and then to my full-time job at Endeavor, which I do love.
You’ve probably been told to take risks your whole life, and you should. Yet you can easily start now by just focusing on the small, different things you can do in your daily routine to break it. Recognize the scramble opportunities, and jump on them. Time outside of our student-athlete bubble comfort zones is where we grow most, just like the 3-on-2s and breakaways are when the most exciting goals happen.
Nick Martell is the CEO of MarketSnacks, a daily financial newsletter for millennials. This year, he was selected to Forbes 30 Under 30. He transferred from Middlebury College to Brown University, playing on the men’s lacrosse team, majoring in history, and studying abroad in Florence, Italy. He is currently pursuing his MBA at Wharton. If you want to learn more about starting a career in finance or becoming an entrepreneur, connect with Nick via LinkedIn or at TheTeam@MarketSnacks.com.