One could argue that ballet and football might not have that much in common, yet both require fancy footwork, stamina and determination. So it’s somewhat fitting that the winner of this year’s Benny Award for Benefits Leadership in Retirement Planning, Dana Hammonds of the NFL Players Association, wanted to be a dancer as a child.

In high school, Hammonds attended the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., putting in an extra two to three hours a day of dance training on top of her academic studies.

“It definitely taught me discipline,” says Hammonds, director of player affairs and development at the NFLPA. “In my career there’s a certain level of compassion that I’ve experienced in terms of the amount of training that goes into that craft and the amount of dedication that goes into it.”

Since joining the organization 25 years ago as a legal assistant, Hammonds has launched a successful financial education program and constantly fine-tuned educational topics and outreach to meet players’ needs.

Hammonds “has become one of the nation’s thought-leaders in the area of financial wellness, specifically around marketing financial wellness programs effectively to reach challenging audiences,” according to the nomination submitted by Financial Finesse, a company that provides financial education, counseling and financial wellness programs to employers.

Also see: 5 tips to make retirement education more meaningful

With an NFL player’s average career spanning just 3.1 years, most players retire from the game in their early to mid-20s. In 2009, Hammonds and her team used the NFL lockout to get players focused on life after the game, hiring Financial Finesse to help them develop a comprehensive financial education program.

“We considered that lockout a fire drill for when the paychecks really do come to an end,” says Hammonds. “While it was an unfortunate set of circumstances, in the long run what it showed the players was that this career they have can come to a very abrupt end, whether it’s through a lockout, an injury or it’s just your time because of loss of performance. Whatever it is, because it’s such a short career, you should always have a plan in place.”

Hammonds was instrumental in introducing the concept of gamification, which she recognized would appeal to players’ natural competitive nature. In 2014, she expanded on a successful competition for players from 2009 called “The $54,896 Idea Contest” — which encouraged players to submit their ideas for how to better spend that amount of money — with “The Best Thing I Never Bought.” Players submitted stories about a time they decided not to purchase something in order to do something more financially wise with their money. The winner was featured on the website and won two airline tickets to a destination of their choice.

Financial Finesse, which also runs a financial helpline for players, experienced a dramatic spike in calls in 2014 from new recruits wanting to understand how to better manage their signing bonuses — an indication that younger players are focusing more on improving their finances. Since its inception in 2009, Hammonds’ financial education program has reached more than 2,500 players.

Also see: Urgent need exists for employee education about retirement plan contributions

In addition to her work on behalf of NFL players, Hammonds is currently completing a masters’ degree in personal finance. Her thesis is focused on behavioral finance and the effects of sudden money on individuals, a topic near and dear to her heart.

“We’re very quick as a society to point fingers and talk about what people are not doing, and not spending enough time focusing on why people are doing what they do,” she says.

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