Middlebury’s Matt St. Amour ’17 on Living Up to Expectations, Playing Professional Basketball while Getting a Masters, and What He Looks for in Candidates as a Recruitment Consultant
Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond can be quite challenging. Especially when those expectations carry over to the next level, where you become a small fish in a big pond. For Matt St. Amour, this scenario became a reality. However, he not only matched but exceeded these expectations, leading Middlebury’s Basketball team to an Elite Eight, setting multiple school records, and making positive contributions to the Middlebury community. In this interview, we talk about dealing with adversity, crossing the pond (literally), and why athletes make good recruitment consultants.
Having been a very successful High School athlete in Vermont, how challenging did you find your adjustment to college sports?
The shift from being a successful high school athlete to a college athlete was a huge adjustment. For anyone going from high school sports to college level competition it is a huge shift, but especially coming from Vermont. Also, being Gatorade Player of the Year in Vermont added to those expectations. Since it is such a small state, the success that I had set extra high standards for me when I arrived at Middlebury. I spent most of my freshman year feeling like I would never live up to those expectations.
You suffered multiple setbacks during your freshman season. How did this change your mindset and what lessons did you draw from those setbacks?
I really struggled with the expectations that were placed on me during my freshman year. I had a decent first half of the season, but then in the first practice back from Winter Break I had a nasty fall. I injured my knee and for the longest time I didn’t know what was wrong. I continued to rehab and played through it. I played for almost a month with a partially torn ACL before I finally tore it completely in February.
It was frustrating that I wasn’t performing as well as I knew I could and it was really tough to deal with. Our team also wasn’t performing up to expectations and everyone was feeling the pressure. A year after making it to the Elite 8, we weren’t able to qualify for the NCAA tournament. It really affected my transition to college, but looking back it might’ve been the best thing that happened in my career. I was really able to use it as motivation and wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back better and stronger than ever. This really pushed me through surgery and my rehab process. It is the same approach I try and take with every setback.
You had one of the most successful basketball careers in Middlebury history while also being involved in several other groups on campus. How did you manage to balance those competing interests?
I think my involvement off the court and my success on the court are connected. My freshman year, I was nervous about the adjustment in the classroom and on the court, so I only focused on my school work and on basketball. In high school, I was always really involved in extracurricular activities and in the community. Growing up in a small town, similar to Middlebury, it was a very tight-knit community. This was something that I always valued.
So when I got to Middlebury and only focused on basketball and school, I didn’t feel like myself. I made it a goal that when I came back sophomore year and was done rehabbing my knee to get involved with more activities both on campus and in the community. I joined Green Dot, Relay for Life, volunteered in nearby schools, and started coaching a local 5th grade AAU team. This made me feel more like Middlebury was home and it helped me perform better on the court.
Unlike most DIII athletes, you chose to continue playing while pursuing your masters degree in Ireland. In what ways did this differ from your experience in the US and what advice would you give to other student-athletes who are considering doing something similar?
My time in Ireland was a very different experience for me. After living in Vermont my entire life, I wanted the opportunity to live abroad. Since basketball was in both semesters, I was never able to study abroad. I would tell anyone that is contemplating doing it that they definitely should. It was hard for me at times, but it was a really important experience for me. Even more than continuing to play, it was great to be able to travel and live in another country.
How did doing your masters straight after undergrad allow you to narrow down your career choices? Did you know what you wanted to do right after undergrad or did you need more time to explore your options?
As a junior and senior in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I ended up deciding to be a part of the program Sport Changes Life in Ireland. It is designed so that student athletes can go to Ireland and pursue a Master’s degree while playing for a professional team and also coaching and mentoring in the community.
This program really helped me figure out what is most important to me and allowed me to think about what I wanted to do afterwards. During my time in Ireland, I spoke with an internal recruiter from Lawrence Harvey and learned about the opportunities within the field of recruiting. I found that there was a lot of overlap from the things that I liked about in basketball and I decided to give it a shot once I got back from Ireland.
How have the lessons you have learned during your basketball career helped your transition to Lawrence Harvey?
Along with communication and a competitive drive, I believe basketball taught me how to take responsibility for my mistakes. Integrity is such an important part of life and it is true for both being a good teammate and a good employee. Being able to own up to your mistakes and knowing how to deal with them is a valuable trait both on a team and in the workplace. It is how you bounce back from these mistakes that can be the difference between success and failure.
Why do you think Lawrence Harvey is a good fit for athletes?
Our leadership group really focuses on recruiting athletes to join our company. I believe that there are a lot of traits learned through sports that can translate to recruitment. The main ones are communication skills. A large part of our role is being able to communicate and build relationships. This is one of the things I enjoy most about basketball and my job at Lawrence Harvey. Another trait that we look for is a competitive drive. In recruiting and sports there are often a lot of setbacks and failures. It is how you deal with those failures that makes you successful.
As a recruitment consultant, you have some insights into what makes a good candidate. What are the most important skills you look for in potential candidates?
The most important skills that I look for in a candidate are honesty, good communication skills, and the skillset needed for the job. When speaking with candidates, if I don’t believe that they are telling the truth, then I won’t be able to trust them through the entire process. If they’re not genuine and open about their skills and experience, then I know they won’t be a good fit for the client. There are many jobs that don’t require expert communication skills, but it is still very important for the majority of jobs. If a candidate isn’t able to clearly articulate their accomplishments and experiences, then they won’t be able to convince the hiring manager that they would be a good fit. The last one is the most straightforward of the three. No matter how good of a person a candidate might be, there are a limited amount of skills that are needed for every job. If a candidate doesn’t have these basic requirements, then it won’t be a good fit for them or the client.
If you could go back in 5 years in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
The biggest piece of advice I would give myself would be to be confident. Coming into Middlebury, I struggled with my confidence. With the high expectations and the early setbacks in my career, my confidence was shaken. This really affected the way I played and also my overall happiness at Midd. A lot of times I didn’t feel like I belonged, whether it was in the classroom, on the court, or on campus. Coming from a poor, rural farm town in Vermont, I came from a much different background than most students from Middlebury and it was intimidating. As my college career went on, I became more confident in who I was and was proud to be me. This helped me perform better in all facets of my life and a lesson that I wish I learned sooner.