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Words Of Advice For Athletes Thinking About A Career In Sports

Mike Coppola / Staff

What about a career in the sports industry?

Let's say I'm now an upper classman in college, and the panic as started to set in because I have no clue what I want to do in life.  All I have done is focus on my sport, and have been getting through life juggling practice, school, and personal life. Sports has consumed my life for the last 20 years, so of course, why not pursue a career in the sports industry?  I am not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds cool and do I know or will I be interested in any thing other than sports? Plus, almost every college in the country now offers an undergraduate degree or graduate degree in sports management, so it must be a viable option.

The reality of it is that you can follow your passion and your love for sports into a career.

The reality of it is that you can follow your passion and your love for sports into a career.  However, it is not easy and it takes the same commitment and hard work that you have shown to be a successful collegiate athlete.  The sports industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry with literally thousands and thousands of jobs of all types.

Fortunately, you don’t have to get an undergraduate degree in sports management to make the move into the sports world.  As a matter of fact, many veterans of the industry would advise to get a more general degree in something like psychology, communications, business, or any of a number of foundation building basics. The option of a graduate degree in sports management or commonly referred to as Masters in Sports Administration (MSA) is always an option and potential differentiator.

So, the big question is usually, how do I follow that dream or what advice can you give me to break into the sports industry?

I have personally spent 25+ years in the sports industry, and have answered those types of questions hundreds of times. As a matter of fact, a passion of mine is trying to help mentor the next generation and “give back” to those with a strong interest for sports and making it a career path.  Once the reality sets in that, like any industry, it is hard to get that first job, and then only for those that work hard and commit to success does it become a true career path.

My experience has shown me that the top questions college seniors ask are, “How did you get your job and what advice do you have for me to get my first job?”  

Well, I've heard those questions so often, I even started a blog focused on those exact questions.  Here is some of the advice my friends in the industry shared with me and will hopefully prove valuable to those nearing graduation and considering a career in the sports industry.


Advice For Student-Athletes In College Today Who Want To Get A Job In The Sports Industry 

Tom Bowen, Athletics Director, University of Memphis:

There are no guarantees and no entitlements, but hard work and integrity will pay off every time.

“First and foremost, it is a grind and not easy. It takes a very long time to get into an athletic director position.  Being an assistant AD for two years does not mean you’re going to get that promotion in year three, but the next job may bloom quickly into a promotion after one year.  Don’t get frustrated if you go to University Y, and do a great job, but don’t get promoted.  Embrace humility and also don’t worry about making small mistakes.  Patience is critical when you begin a career in the sports industry.  Success in this industry is also about your moral character and your effort.  Work far above and beyond what people expect and with great intensity and good things will happen. There are no guarantees and no entitlements, but hard work and integrity will pay off every time.” 

Shelley Binegar, Associate AD of External Affairs and SWA, East Carolina University Athletics:
“Your career starts on day one of your freshman year. If you are not volunteering or gaining experience from day one, you are behind. It is so important to gain experience early and be able to differentiate yourself on the day you graduate or start looking for a job." 

Fred Smith, Associate AD of Development, Northwestern University Athletics:
“Try to get some experience while you are still in school. Whether it be an internship at your school, minor league team, or any type of local professional team try to get some experience. It may be in a sports marketing role with a local firm that is involved with sports. Any type of sports experience will be important as you try to get that first real job. Your experience and connections will be extremely important and to have people within the industry speak on your behalf will be critical in getting your foot in the door somewhere.” 

Lauren Hoffmann, Director of Partnership Marketing, Richard Childress Racing:
Never burn a bridge, be willing to move anywhere (i.e. Memphis), and your first job will certainly not be your last job, so be willing to go out on a limb. I am thankful I did things the way I did, and it was great for me to get some real-life experience in and out of the sports world before going to grad school.” 

Your first job will certainly not be your last job, so be willing to go out on a limb.

Mike Bucek, VP of Marketing and Business Development, Kansas City Royals: 
”Clearly internships are very important to gain experience and exposure to the industry. It could be with a professional team, minor-league team, sports marketing agency, or a sports commission. Internships provide students the opportunity to learn the business and understand the commitment it takes to be in the sports world."

Good luck deciding on a career path, and if you have decided on a career in the sports industry, hopefully this advice and wisdom helps with the journey.