Before Jonathan Hood was a PhD candidate and motivational speaker, his field of expertise was the football field.
After being drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos, Hood played six seasons in the CFL as a linebacker for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts before retiring from football in 2014, before he’d even turned 30.
So Hood knows something about starting over and understanding his identity. For the past year, Hood ran his Ahead of the Game mentorship program at the University of Guelph-Humber, meeting with a group of students for 12 sessions blending real-life stories, interactive group work, collaborative discussion and weekly reflection. He’s running the program again at UofGH in 2017-18.
He founded the program because he sees a common thread in the type of guidance and help university students tend to need. The program originally started at UofGH through the Kinesiology program, and soon became popular among other students.
“At this time in their lives, young people want to know what’s next,” said the personable Hood, whose program is eligible for students’ co-curricular credit record. “In order to know what’s next, you have to be in touch with who you are. The two main things we built this program on were identity and purpose.
“We really want the students here to understand who they are, where their strengths lie, what kind of careers interest them, so they can move in that direction. Throughout the program, you build confidence in yourself, you work better in a team, you communicate better, and you overcome obstacles more easily.”
Hood has always practised what he preaches about work ethic and planning ahead.
When he was drafted 26th overall in the 2008 CFL Draft, he didn’t play right away, instead deciding himself to complete his Master’s degree in sports psychology at Western University.
Though Hood never let his focus stray too far from academics, he also found no shortage of valuable lessons as a professional athlete. As he tells UofGH students, the resilience, self-belief and dedication necessary to succeeding on the gridiron are essential in any professional pursuit.
“Students want to know what we went through and how it parallels,” Hood said. “You learn about success and failure really quick. You have to learn to develop yourself while being the best teammate you can be. You’re judged as an individual but also your contributions as a team member. I think we all go through that, at work, in the family and as students.”
For Hood, the best part about running the program might be seeing the gradual growth of the students who enroll. At the beginning, he initiated activities that gauged the students’ comfort with communicating and sharing who they are.
By the end of the year, he noticed a “huge difference.”
“They’re more open, their presentation skills are better, they have more confidence, they’re more willing to share, they see opportunities and have the confidence to seize them,” he said. “This school is very unique and it’s innovative in that you’re developing students much earlier than other universities I’ve visited. Guelph-Humber marries the theoretical and the practical so the students are learning to be critical thinkers way earlier.
“Students here have this natural thirst for professional development and it’s great to see it at that age.”
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