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Hollywood Producer David Zelon on How Football Helped Shape His Life


As part of an ongoing series to promote how the benefits of participation in college sports extends beyond the playing field, NCSA interviewed David Zelon, Head of Production for Mandalay Entertainment’s Motion Picture Division. Zelon most recently produced “Soul Surfer,” the motion picture based on the life of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. He has also served as executive in charge of production on numerous films, including “The Score,” “Beyond Borders,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Enemy at the Gates.”


What college or university did you attend?
University of Pennsylvania

What college sport did you play?

What are the most important lessons you learned through sports?
Teamwork: The ability to work together in harmony to achieve the goal.

Work Ethic: The harder you work the better you will be.

Composure: Keeping calm in tough situations is the only way to get through them.

Adaptability: The challenges you face are fluid. You must be able to react smartly, quickly and decisively.

Competitiveness: This is the single most powerful tool in achieving greater accomplishments. This is the only way to raise your own bar. Competition comes in many forms. Team versus team, player versus player and self versus self. If you set a goal and reach it on your own, and then set a higher goal, so you are competing against yourself, you learn there are virtually no limits to what you can accomplish.

What did you learn through sports that your “formal” education did not teach you?
My formal education taught me facts while sports taught me the skill of applying knowledge in real life and real time situations. It put me in emotional situations that skew the ability to think easily. Formal education does not have immediate threats while real life is all about threats; threats in the sense that you face challenges that have real life consequences and situations that require changes of direction in the immediate moment.

How is business like sports?
Goals must be set, work must be done to reach those goals, challenges appear that you have not thought about yet you must react. Business is more important than sports because you depend on it for survival. Sports are not about survival, its about testing yourself, trying to be victorious. In business, like sports, competition is the foundation of achievement and success. Those who can compete relentlessly are successful in any endeavor.

How have sports helped you become successful in your field?
All of the principals mentioned above created the person I am today. The mental toughness that comes from hard physical exertion and competition becomes the foundation that you bring to the workplace everyday

What advice do you have for student-athletes?
Be relentless, be persistent, don’t be afraid to fail. Learn that failure brings lessons. Take what you want from life — don’t wait for someone to give it to you. Never let someone tell you what you are capable of. Instead, tell them what you can do!
Patience: There are times when you have done all you can do and you have to be able to let it come to you.


If you’re an athlete interested in following in David’s footsteps and succeeding in life by playing collegiate sports, then click here or call 866-579-6272 for a free evaluation with an NCSA Collegiate Scout.

About the author
Aaron Sorenson