As a basketball player, Jerome Williams was known as the Junkyard Dog, or “JYD,” a nod to his ferocious nature in the paint and in cleaning up rebounds.
It’s a marketable name that Williams now plays up on social media. He got his nickname in the NBA, but Williams had enough of a reputation as a sturdy 6-foot-9 power forward at Georgetown to have his own trading card in college.
“The revenue streams from that, I can’t really see, because the NCAA signed deals with those trading card companies to be able to monetize my image, name and likeness without me getting a dime from that because I had signed my letter of intent with Georgetown,” says Williams, who helped the Hoyas reach the Sweet 16 in 1995 and the Elite Eight in 1996.
Williams, who retired after a nine-year NBA career in 2005, thinks back to his playing days about how he could have marketed himself in today’s college basketball world. It’s a world that is now being shaped by an NCAA rules change that followed the passage of state laws permitting student athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness (NIL).
Among many ventures and initiatives, Williams has been an ambassador for the game overseas, a high school basketball coach in Las Vegas and an advocate for the NBA’s retired players in promoting and protecting their legacies. At 50, he is now honing in on the sports-playing kids like he once was through his company, Intellectual Property For Athletes Made By Athletes or IP FAMBA.
Among a number of offerings, his company generates an IP score, which takes data on athletes, including where they live, what sport they play, their grade point average, their social media following and awards. There is also a social platform where they can post as part of a community with other athletes.
He isn’t waiting until boys and girls are in college, though, to understand and promote their NIL.
“Sixth grade is when we tell kids to start getting going; some as early as fifth grade because a lot of the major sports really start scouting the sixth grade,” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “So basketball, football, you’re already being rated and ranked in these grades, and that includes tennis and other sports from volleyball to cheerleading.”
Williams hosted a Future Pros basketball event this weekend in Washington, D.C., open to middle school boys and girls of all talent levels. The session offered circuit training and instruction from former professionals, including Williams, but also an off-court class for parents and players about the NIL landscape.
Every artifact from one’s sports career – such as memorabilia, photo or videos – can be preserved as “intellectual property” in a digital portfolio. Williams’ middle-school aged son, Jeremiah, for example, has collected keepsakes from basketball tournaments around the country as part of his digital scrapbook.
“I want other parents to understand what they could be doing with their kids, too,” he says.
These items, he says, can one day help you monetarily (through bids from family, friends and fans) but also boost your exposure and NIL profile as a player rising the sports pyramid, which gets narrower and narrower as you move from middle school to high school and college.
“Let’s say you’re on a football team in high school and you are one of the top-ranked teams in your county,” Williams says, “and you win a lot of games and you start to create your data collection. Well, chances are you have fans in your neighborhood, in your community, that want to support you.”
Williams has a holistic view of the young athlete. He is a father of four and a sports dad. Two of his daughters, Gabby and Giselle, are on the volleyball team at Georgetown. He has learned through parenting athletes and his own experience that the most important components of a kid who aspires to play in high school, college and beyond are time and commitment.
Williams’ own parents didn’t have the means for camps or personal instruction, as he has found for Gabby and Giselle. Instead, his dad spent endless hours with him on the basketball court. Such dedication overcompensated for any knowledge he lacked.
Here are five tips from him on how to use the valuable time we have as parents of youth athletes to promote their careers while enhancing their lives.
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1. Discover their love for a sport
“I think the No. 1 focus is making sure that they are doing what they love to do,” Williams says. “Also, not pushing them beyond their own limits of how much they want to put into this sport.”
In middle school, Williams played soccer and ran cross country but then realized he wanted to zero in on basketball. He recommends you have your son or daughter specialize in a sport by the seventh or eighth grade if they are serious about playing it in college.
He did so with his kids in sixth grade.
“That’s the time when they start to develop, they start to grow and you can have a better sense of some of their strengths if you’re looking at one sport,” he says. “When they were in fourth, fifth grade, they were playing tennis, volleyball and track and field so it was sort of like, ‘Man they’re decent at all of ’em but what are they gonna enjoy playing the most?’ So I let them choose and then we just focused on that one thing for sixth, seventh and eighth grade.”
In this space, I have written about how a kid committing too early to one sport can contributing to burnout. That burnout, Williams says, comes from overzealous parents.
“There’s a fine line between someone who’s trying to do something as a young person and someone who’s being pushed to do something by a parent. … You have to make sure that there’s 100 percent buy-in all the time. And that can change from week to week but you have to allow that change to take place because you can’t have a child or a young athlete feeling like this is your dream because that’s when you can run into problems.”
2. Do the work and remember: ‘You can’t create a kid like yourself’
Williams admits his knowledge of basketball has helped his son, but he didn’t play volleyball and never trained his daughters at the sport.
“You can’t create a kid like yourself,” he says. “You can’t make them to be like you or want the same things that you want.”
If you can’t afford to pay a private coach, you can find drills to mimic from coaches and professionals on the internet to help you learn a sport.
“It just boils down to how much time you want to spend with your kid,” Williams says. “How did I make it? I was just out on the basketball court and my dad was throwing me the ball.”
Williams’ father didn’t offer much instruction, other than “make sure you hold your follow-through.” But before YouTube or Instagram, he was there with his son when he needed him, taking pride in learning the game himself through relentless repetition.
3. Know the odds
According to recent figures, close to 500,000 athletes compete in NCAA sports. If that sounds like a large number, consider there are about 8 million high school athletes.
Williams believes in putting those odds in perspective for kids.
“Let them know, ‘Hey, in order to be a volleyball Division I athlete … you’re gonna have to do the work and you’re gonna have to make yourself visible to the point where you stand out. That is learning the sport, taking time to be trained in the sport correctly. … It’s a little bit of a cheat code in terms of being able to give my son everything that I know (in basketball), but it’s still up to him how far he wants to take it because, at that level, it’s a lot tougher competition.”
Or perhaps, when your son or daughter gets to high school or college, they realize they are doing a sport because it is something they enjoy. They might want to play that sport on an intramural or recreational level in college because it is still an enriching activity for them.
4. Promote your unique self
Most collegiate (and professional) athletes will tell you that unless you’re physically gifted, like Williams’ college roommate, Allen Iverson, all of those hours you put in at your sport are what will separate you from the crowd.
“Those hours that you split between two (sports), it’s gonna be hard for you to compete against the kid that’s spending all of his hours with just one,” Williams says.
Grades are crucial, too. Coaches and schools are monitoring them. You can put yourself even more on these schools’ radars if you distinguish yourself academically.
Another way to get coaches’ attention is through social media posts about your achievements. (Personal tip: Don’t brag too much. Before either of my sons, who are 16 and 13, makes a social media post, I proofread for misspellings and to make sure they are representing themselves respectfully and accurately.
Building up your list of followers can help you get NIL deals down the road, too, Williams says. Just don’t let the activity consume you.
5. Set limits with devices
Video games, like social media and phone consumption, don’t end. They are a continuum of distraction unless you nip them in the bud.
It’s hard to compete for a spot on a high school or college team with a kid who puts in four hours a day five times a week at their craft when your kid puts in one hour. If your kids are serious about his or her athletic craft, don’t let them get sucked into technology that keeps them from it.
“Sometimes you gotta take the phone away,” Williams says. “Monitor your kids’ internet, monitor your kids’ video games. “My advice is monitor, and keep monitoring and keep setting limits.”
Don’t give in when they push back.
“Oh, just five more minutes, Dad,” Jeremiah told him the other day. “If I quit the game now, I lose all of my tokens.”
“What does that have to do with you getting off the phone?” Williams said. “They lock these kids into something that keeps them on these games that ultimately takes time away from doing something productive.”
During a family vacation, Williams noticed his son constantly looking at his phone. It was a good reminder to all of us that sometimes we get distracted about what is important, in sports and in life.
“I had to take away his phone just so he could walk around and see his surroundings and see what’s out there,” Williams says. “You’re not gonna see anything with these phones … The phone is gonna be there, the game is gonna be there, social media is gonna be there.
“I think when parents first viewed it, it was something that gave them some time so that they could do things they wanted to do because your kid was occupied by this phone.
“You’re trying to get some of that time back.”
Steve Borelli, aka Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer with USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife, Colleen, are now loving life as sports parents for a high schooler and middle schooler. For his past columns, click here.
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