After the GameOct 28, 2019

After the Game: Tony Beltran

After 12 years with Real Salt Lake, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is turning the page to the next chapter in his life - life after soccer. For many athletes, the transition away from the game and often the only career they have known can be an understandably difficult process. For Beltran, when an injury signaled an unexpected, early end to his career on the field, he made the choice to hit the ground running to determine what his next move would be.

By using the network he developed throughout his career, Beltran was able to get connected to the Next Step: Transition to Business program at Dartmouth. This program was specifically designed to aid military veterans and elite athletes through the transition into the civilian world while simultaneously educating them on the fundamentals of a career in business.

Beltran shared his reflections from his time at Dartmouth with the PA, including the striking similarities he had with the members of his cohort, and why he thinks all players should start thinking about life after the game now.

I’ve been fortunate in so many ways throughout my life, and one of those is that I was drafted by Real Salt Lake and was able to spend my entire career there. However, towards the latter half of my 12-years with RSL, I realized I needed to start thinking and conceptualizing on what I wanted to do after soccer. As every athlete knows, but maybe doesn’t want to admit to themselves, the day where you have to step away from the game does come. What I found going through this transition, which was unfortunately pushed on me a little earlier than I thought due to an ever-evolving knee injury, is that conceptualizing your transition and executing it are two different things.

So, I was eager and ready to do anything and everything that could give me a little bit of an edge and a little more confidence in figuring out what was next beyond soccer. I have been involved with the MLSPA for eight years at this point, so I know that they are our best ally in anything. I reached out to them immediately, just to have a conversation about the reality of what was happening and to get some advice on how to go about things. One thing I’ve learned through this and honestly with anything in life is that speaking to others who have gone through the same experience is a tremendous benefit.

This truly served as the preseason for my life and career after the game. It was exactly what I needed."

When Bob (Foose) brought up the program at Dartmouth, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Now, initially, I was discouraged because as I researched and talked to people, I realized that the time for applications had passed. The course is very time intensive, especially on the front end. Fortunately, there was one last place in the cohort and I was able to get in. Looking back, I can confidently say that going through this program was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As an athlete, I can really only compare it to my sports career and this truly served as the preseason for my life and career after the game. It was exactly what I needed.

It’s very easy to romanticize life at Dartmouth, but it was also an incredibly demanding two weeks. Essentially, what they do is they take the first 6 months of MBA curriculum and condense it down into each class. You’re learning a lot individually and it’s on you to do the pre-work and stay engaged and to absorb as much as possible. I would equate it to treading water for two weeks. But, I still left the classroom each day saying, “I would love to do this for the rest of my life.” A couple things kept me accountable; obviously, the self motivation to learn because you are trying to better your future, my cohort and then the professors, who were just so engaging and so fun to be around. Just being on campus and walking around and interacting with the students and faculty was honestly a little intimidating, but also just a tremendous experience. To learn from people who are experts in their field is just fun.

One of the most rewarding parts about the entire experience was interacting with my cohort. I had never been in an environment like that with other high level athletes, and especially not with transitioning military veterans. The best way to put it is that it was like looking in a mirror. As individuals, we are so similar in the sense that in our career we were so focused and specialized and then you are expected to move on and do something else. In a sense, it’s all you know and it’s part of your identity and you’re wrapped up in it. To have that similarity even with a different group allowed us to bring down barriers and relate to each other and really open up.

It was really like therapy for the more difficult moments on this identity crisis of transitioning out of the only job I’ve ever known."

That brought about arguably the most rewarding part of the experience, which was just that it was so cathartic. It was really like therapy for the more difficult moments of this identity crisis of transitioning out of the only job I’ve ever known. A big part of this process was challenging yourself to be outside of your comfort zone, to learn how to look at things in a different way. Being able to talk through that with these veterans and see it from both sides, it was empowering.These shared experiences and discussions allowed us to get so much confidence from each other.

I think it would be foolish to go into something like this or any program thinking that it’s going to tell you exactly what you should do next. That’s just not realistic. But I think what it did do, and what it did really well, was empower me. It gave me the belief and the base knowledge and tangible skills to know that my soft skills, everything I’ve accumulated through soccer and through the PA especially, translates to the business world and how to best utilize that moving forward. It was a way to give myself the confidence I needed to handle this transition effectively and appropriately.

Everything that I’ve done since I got back from Dartmouth has all been in hopes of solidifying my next move. I could not have done any of it without going through this program. This was just another example of how soccer has opened so many doors to me in life that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The advice I would give to the entire player pool is to take advantage of the role of being a professional athlete, because it really does open a tremendous amount of opportunities that aren’t afforded to the average person. The entire player pool, or a large majority of it, are as mentally insecure as I was when it comes to thinking about the looming transition that gets closer each day. Your biggest asset is time. Take the time to further your education and pursue higher education while you are playing. Obviously, you have to be committed to your craft and there’s a balance to be achieved there, but continuing to better yourself and to pay attention to the outside world and not be so narrow minded with the day-to-day of soccer is incredibly important and beneficial.