Personal Development Programs: A Reality or A Formality?

Updated: November 2, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, C.A.—My previous article, The Black Athlete: A Shameful story in the New Millennium,  touched on the issue of personal development as it pertains to the Black athlete.  The feedback was inspirational and questions about personal development have prompted this intended thought provoking article.

According to, Personal development courses first began appearing in the early 1970’s in California. Their popularity quickly gained them a reputation for weekend quick fixes that were quirky and off the wall.  By the 1980’s organizations running personal development courses had sprung up around the world.  The first decade of the new millennia was witness to the industry morphing into various areas of specialization such as courses in assertiveness, business success, or trauma counseling.  Seen from an outsider’s perspective, this was the period in which the industry itself turned professional.


Personal Development includes activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.  Personal development is a field of practice and research.  As a field of research, personal development topics increasingly appear in scientific journals, higher education reviews, management journals and business books (Wikipedia 2012).


While respecting the history, definition and field of research, how does personal development connect to the Black athlete in theory and practice?  More importantly how do researchers study subjects and implement findings to assist the Black athlete in the area of personal development since this population was never the specific intended audience?


In sport, personal development programs have become a check the box and move on concept.  The programs are being implemented due to the mandated association bylaws, however, are they effective?  There are very few if any professional development programs targeting individuals working specifically with the Black athlete.  In fact, most graduate level programs, which many helping professionals in sports are awarded degrees, don’t offer courses or programs targeting the development of the Black athlete.  This would explain why so many young collegiate Black athletes spend four years on a college campus or retire from a professional sport and leave lacking the necessary skills to make a significant contribution to our society, to say the least.


The argument can be made that we don’t need specific graduate level courses targeting the Black athlete.  In response, according to the TIDES reports, Black players constitute 78% of the NBA, 74% of the WNBA, and 67% of the NFL (Lapchick & Matthews, 2012).  On the collegiate level Black college players constituted 60.9%  of Division 1 men’s basketball and 45.8% of Division I football (2010 NCAA).  If we are witnessing high numbers of participation in sports by Black athletes, then it is time to inject programs and courses to assist this population.  The point in doing so will provide helping professionals the necessary education needed for true development to occur.  More importantly as discussed earlier, the field of personal development morphed into specialized areas and turned professional.


Still not convinced, ok, if you are working in the field of athletics ask yourself or your colleagues, what is the essence of Black athletic identity, the Black athletes worldview or the stages of growth Black athletes encounter along the athletic journey?  How about the transitional phases Black athletes encounter and more importantly how we deal with them?  It is extremely difficult for helping professionals, regardless of ethnic background to get to the core of developing the Black athlete with out understanding the topics mentioned.  While I believe their are helping professionals making significant contributions to the development of the Black athlete my experience and research reveals they often fall short in providing the Black athlete with long term developmental needs.


Most college athletic departments have a personal development component.  Many of them have the same generic pattern of services offered, a career, community service and life skills component, etc. However, services to meet the needs of Black athletes are not offered.  In fact, most Black athletes rarely take advantage of the services offered.  This is widely due to a number of realities, however the number one reason is intertwined in the rational for attending college in the first place.  Which is, has been, and always will be, to play Ball and ultimately become a professional player!  Therefore prior to working on the student-athlete development concept, efforts should be made in understanding delivery methods to move from personal player development and then interjecting student athlete development.


After dedicating twenty years as an athlete and more than fifteen years working with this population through research and practice it is time to provide information on the subject from a theoretical to elite practical perspectives.  A book on the subject will be released in the Spring of 2013, which will cover topics including the Psychology, Counseling and Personal development of the Black athlete.  Much of the information in this article is explained in detail in the forthcoming book, therefore I will continue and provide some of the key aspects of Personal Player Development as an appetizer for what is to come.


Collegiate helping professionals use terms such as student-athlete personal development, student-athlete engagement or student-athlete leadership and development.  On the professional sports level, the term player development is widely used, although historically, this term made reference to the sports skills development area, rather than personal development and in many circles it remains confusing to some.  Therefore, with regards to the Black athlete the term personal player development fits best when specifically working with the Black athlete as he views himself as an athlete (player) most often then as a student.


Personal Player Development is defined as, the art of specifically focusing on the personal development of an individual and or groups for the sole purpose of allowing them to develop and maintain a healthy, positive and balanced lifestyle, who are actively engaged in the sporting environment.  Personal Player Development  has four distinct areas of focus when working with Black athletes.  They include: Social, Behavioral, Character and Appearance.  These four qualities encompass the much needed elements for young Black athletes to develop personally and more importantly professionally.


Finally, in my last article I avoided blaming the NCAA, NBA and NFL and most of what you have read is my rational for doing so.  I can’t blame the above for the problems associated with the Black athlete because the necessary educational information needed to help Black athletes in the area of Personal Player Development is virtually non-existent.  For now, I hope this article addresses the concept of Personal Player Development, as well as the rational for interjecting it into the field of Personal Development.


Dr. Mark Robinson has been a Personal Player Development Consultant since 1997 and can be reached at

One Comment

  1. Vivian Davenport

    November 4, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I read your article, and clearly it gave me another view on personal development of black Athleteis. Where does the sense of community come in? Is that apart of Social?

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