Kurland Featured in LIBN’s “From Sports to Court”August 3, 2018 | |
They are focused, goal-driven and always up for a challenge. They are fiercely organized and dedicated. They are disciplined. And they don’t back down from pressure.
They are former college athletes. Now they work as attorneys.
And what they learned in sports has prepared them for their professions.
Just ask Jackie Kramer, an attorney with Smithtown-based Futterman & Lanza, and a gymnast who got her start in the sport at age two.
“I loved the constant challenge,” she said. “In gymnastics there are so many types of skills. I was always learning something new.”
The same traits Kramer used to master the floor exercise, balance beam and vault apply to her work as an attorney, she said. They include time management, sacrifice and a tendency to drill down for best results – qualities developed in grade school and furthered in high school.
Kramer’s experience is not unusual, experts said. Athletes tend to have leadership skills, self-confidence and self-respect, according to “Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlations of Participation in High School Athletics,” a study by Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral science professor at Cornell University, who collaborated with Brian Wansink and Mitsuru Shimizu in his research.
The study was “based on research that demonstrates that athletes who play in high school sports tend to earn higher salaries,” Kniffin said.
And what they picked up as athletes has parlayed well while establishing their careers.
“Sports are a huge character builder,” said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler in Uniondale. Kurland played hockey at Skidmore College and in 2017 served as goalie for the U.S. Open Men’s Ice Hockey Team at the 20th World Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem.
Sports “teaches everyone how to deal with disappointment,” he said, adding that athletes learn to “keep going” despite setbacks.
“I see younger generations of lawyers are quick to get disappointed easily,” he said. “Those with a sports background find it gives them an edge. It doesn’t have to be college sports, it could be Little League.”
The networking along the way helps, said Len Breslow, a partner at Breslow & Walker, a law firm that has offices in Jericho.
Breslow played men’s varsity basketball at Cornell University.
“It opens doors when people hear you that you played college basketball,” Breslow said.
Some of the people he met through college ball are now clients, he said.
And playing sports can lead to continued opportunities in sports.
Kurland, for example, was playing for a men’s league when he decided to try out for the Maccabiah Games. He trained for six months, some of which took place in Chicago and Boston. His team went on to earn the Bronze Medal, and Kurland was named MVP for his performance in the game against Ukraine. The tournament was full of ex-professionals, including National Hockey League players.
“It was a great experience,” Kurland said. “I took my family there. It was the first time they’d been to Israel. It was a two-week tournament, and the opening ceremonies had 50,000 people.”
Some of the greatest life lessons occur while competing in other regions.
“I traveled a lot of places – the west coast of Florida, we had a meet in Cancun,” Kramer said. “You meet a lot of different types of people, and you learn to be accepting of other people. You learn to lose with grace and still have sportsmanship. You appreciate what the teams have done and have respect for your competitors. Even if you had a bad day, you respect that the other team did a good job, and they were the better team that day.”
Time management is something athletes must achieve in order to handle all the demands on their schedule.
Ernest Jones, an attorney in Hempstead, recalls studying by flashlight on the bus at night when he traveled as a freshman playing college basketball for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Those skills came in handy later, he said, when he played semi-pro football for the city of Greensboro. Commitment to both sports and schoolwork helped him “become extremely organized,” Jones said. “I had to fit everything in – practice, study, the games themselves and travel time.”
“It’s a rigorous schedule,” Kurland said. “You have a certain amount of time to get work done. You have to have the work ethic.”
And it can mean sacrifice, Kramer said, who missed out on parties and other events because of time constraints. But “if this is what you love, your team becomes your family,” she said.
With discipline, the responsibilities fall into place.
“You get your work in and your play in,” Breslow said.
Adapting to a rigorous schedule was good practice for Jones, who in addition to his own practice also serves as chief prosecutor of the Nassau County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency.
It also gives him a vantage point now when giving out assignments at work. In traffic court, for instance, Jones has “prosecutors that work for me,” he said. “It’s another team. They all have their strengths.”
As an athlete, Kramer found it paid to be flexible, and sometimes required stepping up to the plate, even if it meant taking on gymnastic events that were not her top preference.
“I did a little bit of vault later in my career,” Kramer said. “I hated it, but three of my teammates went down with injuries.” At that point, Kramer’s coach told her it was time to start training for the vault. She was needed.
It served as the precursor to tasks she’s obligated to take on as an attorney.
“At work, you’re thrown into new situations you’d rather not do,” she said.
“You have to push through. Hard work always pays off in the end.” And hard work can lead to a tendency toward meticulousness.
“Nothing is ever perfect,” Kramer said. “It could always be better.”
Still, Kramer said, it’s important to find balance as a detail-oriented person, recognizing when not to get “bogged down over issues that are not such a big deal.”
Looking to the future
Former college athletes like to give back by coaching future generations.
Kramer, for instance, now coaches regularly at Mid Island Gymnastics in Hicksville.
“It was such a big part of my life,” she said, adding that she still “plays around at the gym.”
Jones coached his son’s Little League baseball team and AAU basketball team. Coaching AAU basketball meant traveling with the team to Florida, Virginia Beach, Albany and other destinations. It also meant picking up and dropping off kids for practice from Queens to Babylon twice a week.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said, adding that he remained committed because it “was an opportunity for my son to play on a good team.”
And Breslow, who coaches AAU basketball, which his kids play, said he can see that for young athletes, the practice and games “boosts their confidence.”
But perhaps the biggest takeaway is the value of your team, even during a rough patch.
“You always have your teammates’ back in good days and bad days,” Kramer said. “You pick each other up.”
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