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Living the Dream… The Road to Your Sports Career (Step 1)

So you want to work in sports?  Or are you maybe just trying to figure out if you really want to work in sports?  Lucky you, you have a step-by-step guide to the sports career search and discovery process right here!  Over the coming weeks, I will dive into what it takes, my experiences, and what you can expect.  So sit back, take a deep breath, and enjoy!

The Concept

Let me first briefly give you some of my background.  Back when I was a sophomore in college I first realized that I wanted to wake up every day and go to work excited with what the day would bring.  A beautiful morning, a bowl of cereal, and out the door… whistling all the way to work!  Live the dream, Joe. Live the dream.  But, wait, how do I do that?  How do I get that “dream job?”  And what was my dream job?  My sophisticated approach was to combine what I enjoyed with my skills.  So I started two lists, and I recommend you do the same.  Get out a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and title each list accordingly: “Likes” and “Talents.”

I’m serious!  Why didn’t you get out a piece of paper?  It’s okay, I’ll wait…

Do you have that piece of paper ready to go?  Now write down anything and everything that fits on either side.  This can be anything from walking the dog to grammatical skills to the color orange.  As the days pass, add to these lists as you perform tasks or think of things.  Then when the lists start to fill the page, try to combine the two in any way you can.  Maybe that means you dog-sit for Cincinnati Bengals fans for a living.  Maybe it means you are a full-time column editor of pet articles.  If you can think up a combination, the job probably exists SOMEWHERE.  As for me, I knew I had a business mentality with a skill in financial analysis.  And my biggest interest was professional sports, particularly football.  Now I just had to combine the two.  Hence the sports path, just like you!

Deal Breakers

Be sure to remember the components of jobs that really bother you.  If you absolutely cannot stand a job in which you will be at a desk all day, don’t take it.  If you cannot stand a boss that never says thank you, don’t agree to work for someone that manages that way.  You will just be miserable after a matter of weeks, and that defeats the purpose of being happy with your career.

For the next step I went to the best sources of career advice I could find: professors, administrators and career services at my university.  After a few generic responses geared towards earning a job in ‘Corporate America,’ I finally was able to get some sound advice from an exceptional career counselor.  I recommend you find that adviser, career counselor or professor that understands what it takes to earn that “dream job,” and stick with him/her!  It was recommended to me that I reach out to accomplished industry executives.  But like many of you, I had no connections; I didn’t know anyone working in sports.

Hunter & Gather

With no real direction, I needed to first find sources of information to arm me with the knowledge I needed.  I quickly learned how incredible of a tool that the internet can be.  The information is ALWAYS out there.  It didn’t take too long before I found books describing the inside of the industry (e.g. Patriot Reign), columns describing the industry written by accomplished industry professionals (e.g. Andrew Brandt and John Clayton), and industry websites (e.g. the NFLPA).  Using the information gathered and base knowledge acquired from these sources, I was able to generate a list of specific questions to ask industry professionals.

However, I still had to actually get in touch with these industry professionals.  At first I thought I needed to focus on contacting only those individuals performing the work and/or those with the job titles that I wanted in my career.  But actually, especially for the sports industry, my recommendation is that you talk to anyone and everyone that will give you their time.  Whether the person is a Sports Information Director, Community Affairs Coordinator, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach, or an Associate Director of Compliance, they all have knowledge of the industry.  The level and division of their experience should not matter to you at this stage.  Each and every one of them can offer their advice as to how they got their start, and they all are connections you can maintain for years to come!  And if you are as fortunate as I was, some will become good friends along the way.

Right Under Your Nose

Before you randomly begin seeking out contact information, first ask professors and department chairs at your university if there are any alumni working in sports that you could contact.  If your university has a Sports Management program, I can guarantee that SOMEONE has graduated from the program and currently works in sports.  And you will almost never get a ‘no’ answer from these alumni if you are still in school.

If you’re not still in school, stick with me, I will help you more below.  Most alumni are happy to help a fellow college student.  Next, seek out sports groups and clubs on campus, and join them.

A major function of these groups is to invite guest speakers, and guess what?  They work in sports!  Also keep tabs on the university’s activities: there are often forums or panels in which numerous individuals that work in sports will speak.  Not only can you gain the insight from multiple professionals at once, but you can also introduce yourself in person.  (A volunteer opportunity manifested itself for me simply because I spoke briefly with a panel member one rainy Wednesday evening.  After following up with an email saying nice to meet you and asking about potential experience opportunities, he happily passed one along!)  Lastly, reach out to friends and family.  There is always a ‘friend of a cousin’ that is willing to speak with an aspiring college student.  (Back to those of you not still in college: You might have missed out on a few opportunities, but all is not lost!)

You have now exhausted all of the obvious methods of finding connections in sports.  With any degree of good fortune, you now have 5 or 6 potential connections.  The next step is to dive head first into the internet!  As we all know a simple Google search can produce quick results, and it wasn’t long before I was able to figure out email address structures and find team office phone numbers.  With some effort and ingenuity, you too can find this information!  Granted, each of these steps will take increasingly more time and effort.  I cannot tell you how many nights I had to stay in to work on my career progress, but keep the faith, because it does pay off!

Perfect Position

So you now have connections to contact, a general understanding of the particular segment(s) of the industry you have interest in, and a list of potential email addresses and phone numbers.  But how in the world are you supposed to get the General Manager of the Seahawks or the President of the Devil Rays to talk to you?!  Don’t worry, it can be done, and it doesn’t take magic.  With some hard work and a little luck, you are on your way to barking with the big dogs!  Stop back for the next 3 Fridays as I get into the details regarding contacting sports professionals, specific opportunities you can create, what to ask, and how in the world this all will eventually lead you to your dream of working in sports.

Lastly, please send your suggestions, questions, comments, and criticisms my way.  (Yes, I welcome the criticisms.)  Thanks for reading, and as always, I hope to continuously educate and entertain!

This is part one of a four part series in which Joe Pirucki examines the ways to get a job in sports. Click here to contact Joe directly

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