portrait of Kirsten Grohs

Doing the little things and thinking outside the box can make all the difference. Canada’s Kirsten Grohs can attest to this. The Manager of Football Administration for the Atlanta Falcons first got her start in the NFL with the help of a $3 Starbucks gift card.

Looking for a way to stand out to NFL teams, former Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille suggested she include a $5 gift card with her resume and send it to all 32 teams in the league. Saddled with college debt and wanting to save money, Grohs sent $3 gift cards instead. The “Starbucks Plan” worked, and both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers reached out to her. She was eventually hired in Jacksonville and spent four years with the franchise starting as a Contract Research and Salary Cap Analyst before becoming the Manager of Football Administration.

After taking a short break from the NFL to explore other opportunities in the world of sports, last year Grohs returned to the league with the Atlanta Falcons. We spoke with her for Go Magazine about standing out in a competitive market, developing relationships and the importance of sharing knowledge. And of course, we asked about the upcoming NFL season as well!

During your time in the NFL, you’ve been involved in many different areas of the business. Why do you think it’s important for people to have the ability to jump in and help anywhere in an organization?

In today’s work landscape, there’s so much fluidity and a lot of change that happens quickly and you have to be adaptable to that. If you’re too rigid and not willing to learn other core traits and skillsets you’re going to get phased out really quickly. Regardless of your career path, I think it’s important to be flexible.

The “Starbucks Plan” is an amazing story! Did you think it would actually work? Or was it more a “Hail Mary” pass type idea?

To be honest, it was sheer desperation and I can’t take credit for the idea. It actually came from my mentor, Marcel Bellefeuille. It was a last shot at seeing if I could just connect with anybody. He said, “Everybody loves free stuff. So why don’t you go out and buy Starbucks gift cards and include them with your resume. You know you’re qualified, but you just need someone to see you.” And I went and did it and lo and behold it worked. At that point I was already in so much debt from school, so I wasn’t able to spend the money to FedEx the gift cards and ensure they would get through. So, I just sent everything through regular mail hoping that it would land in someone’s hands.

I give the idea out as advice to students and a lot of times the response is still the same – “Oh, I would’ve never thought of that.” There’s a young kid that’s in law school right now that I’ve kept in touch with who’s also from Canada. He mailed one of my bosses a free movie pass for two people and said something like, “I know it’s a really busy time of year for you, but if you have time enjoy a movie,” so it’s cool to see the idea reinvented also.

Do you still try and do little things to help stand out and develop or strengthen relationships?

I try and go back to the little things that are often overlooked by people when you’re running on the hamster wheel that is the NFL season. Just small tokens of gratitude or even things as simple as handwritten thank you or appreciation notes.

And I’m always willing to jump in and assist wherever needed regardless of the job. I’ve had our scouting coordinator say things like, “No, you’re above this. You shouldn’t have to do this anymore.” And it’s not about having to do anything – it’s about helping. You’re never above anything. I think doing little things like this lets people know that I’m a team player and that I genuinely appreciate them.

You mentioned one of your mentors earlier. Do you have mentors now or are you providing mentorship to others?

I’ve got a ton of mentors. I try to make sure I have somebody from different sectors of my life just to ensure that I have a well-rounded perspective. The reason why I’m here now in Atlanta is because one of my NFL mentors, Scott Pioli, was the Assistant General Manager here. I had gotten in touch with him a few years back and we kept in touch. And I’m very fortunate right now to work alongside another one of my mentors, Nick Polk, who is our Director of Football Operations. He’s been an awesome coach to me and has taught me so much. I feel really lucky to have people that are so willing to invest so much in me intellectually.

I also participate in a number of different mentorship programs to help students. And anyone that reaches out to me via letter, email or phone to ask for advice, I always ensure that I get back to every single person because I remember what it’s like to try and at least get someone to answer you.

Why is it important for you to share the knowledge that you’ve gained and the lessons you’ve learned?

Because of the challenges that I’ve had to push through to get to where I am today, my empathy level is very high for the next wave of individuals that are coming into this world. I also really value that human element that comes from any type of interaction. I just want to extend a hand anywhere I can because I remember what it’s like to be in that position and how it can be frustrating or just feel really hopeless sometimes. You’re trying to follow your passion and your dreams and for the most part people are seemingly too busy to reach back out. I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way.

When you first came to the Falcons, you took more of an entry-level position before assuming your current role as Manager of Football Administration. In terms of your career development, have you tried to keep an open mindset or have you had a set plan of where you wanted to be?

When I came to Atlanta, I was very flexible. I had just come off of a stint in Los Angeles working for a company called Sports Academy, which is now called Mamba Sports Academy because Kobe Bryant recently acquired it. And they operate very much like a start-up out there. Me going out to L.A. to be a part of that was an opportunity to try something different and see if I could excel at something other than football. I learned a lot more than I could’ve ever imagined there about being flexible. In fact, that word has a whole other meaning to me now.

When I decided that I wanted to come back to the NFL and that’s where my career passion was, I went into it with a really open mind. My goal was to just get back in and contribute and put my head down and go to work. It didn’t necessarily matter where that led to. It was more or less just about being part of something and getting back into it.

I think the fact that I’ve opened up my ideas to where I want my career to go and don’t necessarily have hard set deadlines for any progress or a hard set title of where I want to be one day has probably helped me more than when I had such a narrow vision.

We’re really interested in learning more about insurance in the NFL. When you’re dealing with player contracts, is there insurance built into the contract for injuries, not being allowed to do certain activities or other things?

Yes, there’s always language that supports those types of scenarios in the player contracts. It can be a little different depending on the player, if they’re a veteran or a rookie. Or for instance, if your contract is a $150-million quarterback contract, there’s definitely insurance language in there. There’s all types of precautionary measures that are taken when dealing with such a high-stakes league and large contracts.

The NFL season kicks off soon. Last year the Falcons finished 7 – 9. What are your expectations for this season?

Having a lot of healthy players is something we’re definitely excited about. Obviously, expectations are always high regardless of the season that you’re entering. And we worked our tails off this off-season to really fill some areas of need and our training staff is working really hard to keep our guys healthy. So, we’re praying for fewer injuries this season and a lot more success.

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