So you want a career in sports? Here are a few tips…

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That question crosses everyone’s mind at least once…if not countless times throughout our lives.  It may seem a strange question to ask in an interview, but I ask it every time.

We think we know what we want to do for our career as we graduate college. But, in reality you rarely stay in the same position or with the same company for more than just a few years after accepting that first “real” job.  For this very reason, I tell the students I mentor not to worry about where they will work or what their job will be when they first enter the workforce. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.

Just Get Started

The real focus should be: Just get started. Once you are in an organization, do your job to the best of your ability–and better than anyone one else who is performing the same role.  That will allow you the opportunity to then ask for more work (often at no increase in pay), which leads to more responsibility, a greater role within the company, a more prestigious title and more dollars in your pocket.

From there the long and winding road begins.  Once you prove your value to an organization and have grown (or sharpened) your skills set, the doors begin to open.  You are ready to look at other opportunities, ones that may have been out of your reach earlier in your career, but now fit well with your passion and your experience.

Know How to Leave Your Job

But, it is VERY important that as you begin to move from job to job, and up the corporate ladder, that you leave your job in better shape than you found it. And make sure the relationships created there remain firmly intact.

While this seems logical, leaving a company can be tricky. You basically tell them you are departing for greener pastures. How do you do that without leaving a bad taste in their collective mouths?

  1. Personally meet with your manager first, before telling anyone else.
  2. Do not mail it in from an effort perspective during your final days.
  3. Plan how to effectively transfer responsibilities and complete unfinished work.
  4. Continue acting as a model employee who wants the best for everyone.

You never know when you might once again work for this company or for anyone who works there somewhere else.  Just ask Bill Sutton, who started and ran the Team Marketing and Business Operations department for the NBA.  Originally, Bernie Mullins worked for him.  Fast forward a few years later, after Bill left the NBA, Bill was working for Bernie…you never know if those who work for you or with you will later be your boss.

Know How Not to Leave a Job

So you interview for a different job and receive an offer. What if you choose not to accept? As a professional in the sports world you never know if you will later want to work for that company or someone else in that company who moves elsewhere.

Here’s how not to do it: Don’t email ten minutes prior to an interview stating “I will not be at the meeting as I have accepted another position that is paying more than double what you are offering.”  That happened this past week. Really. Needless to say, that individual will not be interviewed again. The Golden Rule applies anywhere and it applies here: Communicate with others the way you would want to be communicated with.

Where Will You End Up?

You never really know.

Here’s my story. I started in pro soccer and spent 12 years pursuing my passion. I expected to work in soccer  my entire career.  But, thanks to good friends, George Killebrew (Dallas Mavericks) and John Alper (Legends), I was referred for the Associate AD position at SMU.  I loved my job at SMU, but after two years my position was eliminated.  I had opportunities to stay in Dallas in pro sports and in sports radio, but I took a gamble and moved my family to Atlanta to run the Atlanta Beat of Women’s Pro Soccer (WPS).  After two seasons, the league was struggling and I was worried.  However, a friend of mine interested in a position at Las Vegas Motor Speedway asked me to make a call to their VP of Sales, Mike Mossholder. I just happened to have worked with Mike in MLS.  Mike shared with me that NASCAR was a great industry and that there was an open VP position at Homestead-Miami Speedway (HMS).  Within three weeks, I accepted that position and packed up my life in Atlanta for the move to South Florida.  I NEVER anticipated that I would be working NASCAR or living in Miami.  But, the Lord leads us where he wants us to go and certainly had I not been let go from SMU, I would not have taken the position in Atlanta and therefore would not have reconnected with my friend…or ended up in Miami with HMS.

john alper

Look at Colin Faulkner, a Baylor S3 Board member and Baylor Bear.  He knew soccer was played with a round ball, but that was about it.  He had little experience, but he impressed me enough to give him a chance at the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas).  He got his foot in door.  Then, he performed above any and all expectations.  He created and maintained solid relationships across the industry.  This, then, allowed him the opportunity to go to the Rangers (MLB), the Dallas Stars (NHL) and ultimately to the Cubs (MLB).  He burned no bridges and always left his position better than he found it. And yes, I would hire him again in a second, but now there is no way I could afford him!  And who knows, someday, I may be working for him.

It’s a Small World After All

People think the sports industry is huge.  In reality, it is very small. Most of us know each other or at least know someone who knows that person.

So, create a solid personal brand and cultivate positive relationships.  At the end of the day, it is simple: Get your foot in the door. Get started. Outwork everyone. Create relationships. Maintain relationships and don’t burn bridges. Work your way to your ultimate job.  It is truly a long and winding road, but well worth the trip.


 

Cover photo courtesy of James Wheeler.

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