How This Former Female Professional Hockey Player Is Disrupting Collegiate Athletic Recruiting
The college athlete-recruiting status quo appears ripe for disruption. From the perspective of the majority of athletes and their families, the current system limits access for the chance to be considered. Any system that is inefficient and ineffective is prime for disruption.
"In our industry, the recruiting process was due for change. We now have innovations that change the way coaches and players connect, making the recruiting process smoother for both sides," says Lisa Strasman, President of Next College Student Athlete (NCSA). Strasman describes NCSA as the largest and most successful collegiate athletic recruiting network that matches high school student-athletes with college coaches. I sat down with Lisa to find out how her experience as a player in the male-dominated sport of hockey prepared her to change the way colleges recruit athletes for the better.
Every disrupter has a story of the early journey that made her the person she is today. What is your story?
Strasman: I have always been motivated by my passions and proving naysayers wrong. In pre-school, my mom signed me up for figure skating classes. As a tomboy I wanted nothing to do with leotards or ice shows. A few boys I knew played hockey. I begged my parents to let me trade in my toe picks for shoulder pads. Thankfully, they were extremely supportive at a time female hockey players were few and far between. I was the only girl on my team and one of the few female players in the state.
I grew up to play on the boy's high school team as well as a competitive girl's travel team. In college, I played for Yale. After graduation, I moved to Switzerland to play professionally. When I moved back to my hometown of Chicago, I transitioned to technology sales before transitioned to the non-profit sector.
What led you to transition your passion for sports into your business career?
I spent many years as a youth hockey coach where I learned about leadership from a different angle. In business, I realized that the lessons I learned on the ice and in the locker room were transferable: my competitive nature, work ethic, discipline and team-first mindset. At NCSA, I am able to combine my love for sports, my business drive and my altruistic drive.
How did you disrupt the obstacles you faced in a male-dominated industry?
Several coaches laughed in my face when I showed up to the rink. A few told me they would never take a girl on their team. Some male players with were supportive; a few were not. I never let anyone's disrespect deter me. I continued to show up despite some coaches telling me to stop. I was inspired to work as hard as possible to prove my worth because being the only girl on the ice meant I needed to be a top player. I have always believed that it is up to me to prove my worth and I believe this competitive drive has fueled my corporate success.
How did your athletic career in a male-dominated sport prepare you for the hyper-competitive business of the college sports?
As an athlete, I believed anything was possible. Whether preparing to play the top team or entering a third period down three goals, I believed our team could change the situation. Whether we won or lost, my team never gave up. As a coach, if things were not working, I would be quick to change the lineup or adjust strategy on the fly. Once I transitioned to the business side of sports, my will to win benefited me and NCSA greatly. No matter what the obstacles are, I help our team find a way to accomplish our goals. We are also constantly thinking of new and better ways to do things.
What big changes has NCSA instituted that changed the game for up-and-coming athletes?
Over the years my team and I have seen many problems with the recruiting process and have set out to find new ways for athletes and coaches to reach their goals. We digitized the way athletes and coaches connect, breaking down old school geographic boundaries, which used to restrict many coaches. Fifteen years ago a coach without a large recruiting budget would never be able to see a kid play who lived across the country. NCSA has created ways for the coach to watch the prospect play through video and learn all about the athlete digitally and begin communication without leaving their desk. Using years of data and predictive analytics, NCSA is able to recommend colleges to athletes where they have the highest probability of being recruited and making the team, creating efficiency that allows families to save precious time and money with their search.
What does the future hold for you and your industry?
The recruiting process is life changing, and it is complex and incredibly stressful for those going through it. I remain extremely passionate about helping every student-athlete who aspires to play sports in college have a better recruiting journey because of NCSA through new products and services that make it easier for the right college coaches and student-athletes to create meaningful connections.