Around my junior year in college it became clear to me that I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. By then, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be a professional athlete. Proctor and Gamble wouldn’t be calling to offer me a start in their “Executive Development” program. On the advice of a professor I picked up a 2nd major and started thinking about going to graduate school. These were the early days of “Sports Administration” degrees and I ultimately got my Masters degree from the University of Oklahoma in this very field.
These days I am often contacted by young people that want to work in sports. I always take these calls and feel a responsibility to share advice and insight. I doubt that the people that I talk to compare notes, but if they did they would realize that I almost always hit the same points.
Network – If you think that you want to work in sports then you should spend some time talking to people that do. Reach out to professional and college sports administrators in your area. Ask them for 15 minutes to talk about “getting started” in sports. In addition to hearing their story and getting their advice, find out if they have any internships or volunteer opportunities. Be “pleasantly persistent” in this area and work to get the appointment. Make sure to follow up the appointment with a thank you note. You’ll find that some folks are harder to get an appointment with than others and some offer better advice than others. Regardless, this is your start to meeting people that can give you insight into getting started. They can also give you a sense of the various specialties in terms of positions within athletics. Social media is another way to get introduced to sports professionals. Twitter in particular offers numerous opportunities to “connect” and these connections can prove beneficial. Eventually you will also want to consider attending conventions like NACDA which provide innumerable opportunities to meet administrators and learn about opportunities in sports. Keep in mind that attending events like this can be expensive…especially if you are paying for it yourself.
Education – If you want to work in college athletics you need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. This degree can be in just about any field, it doesn’t have to be sports administration or sports management. You don’t have to have a Master’s degree…but if you want to be an Athletic Director then the more education you have the better(most AD positions require a Masters). In my case, I immediately went to grad school after finishing my bachelors(I didn’t have any other options). Many people that I know in college sports worked on their Masters degree while working in a college athletic department. You have some flexibility here.
Experience – At the end of the day, I value experience working in sports over education. Any experience is better than no experience. You can find opportunities to gain experience in a variety of places. The NCAA marketplace online is a great repository of full-time positions, GA opportunities and internships. Most Major League and Minor League sports organizations have internships or seasonal opportunities. Working in the Athletic Department at the school you are attending is another great place to start. My start came as an intern in Minor League baseball. This opportunity turned in to a full time position and set the foundation for my career in sports. Keep in mind that this is a highly competitive market and there are thousands of people vying for these opportunities. Be persistent and make the most of any opportunity that comes your way.
Geography – Depending on your position in life you may have finite geographic boundaries. There are literally opportunities in all 50 states in the country if you are open to living and working anywhere. You’ll have to answer this question for yourself. If you are limited to working in a specific state or region that’s fine…just understand that this might limit your opportunities.
Starting at the Bottom – Just about everyone working in sports starts at the bottom. The bottom is necessary but not glamorous. You’ll have the opportunity to work your way up the ladder provided that you bring a great attitude and work ethic. Getting the opportunity is hard enough…once you get it make the most of it and grow from there. The menial tasks that you’ll perform as a “beginner” are the same tasks that the Athletic Director or General Manager performed. You’d better believe that they think these tasks are important and will evaluate how well you do them.
Working in Sports is a Lifestyle – I learned this quickly during my internship in Minor League baseball. The “off-season” (January through March) featured 12 hour work days and every other Saturday and once the season started we rarely had a day or night off. We routinely worked 80-90 hour weeks for the princely sum of $600 per month. Working in sports involves lots of nights, weekends, and holidays spent at ball games….this isn’t for everyone! Similarly, there aren’t any high paying jobs available for beginners. Can you afford to take this step?
The hardest part of working in sports is getting started. Understanding the business of sports and having a plan for how you can prepare yourself to enter the business can make “getting started” easier for you.