By: John Searby, @JohnSearby
You’ve been banging your head against a wall trying to think of SOMETHING, ANYTHING that will set you apart for a job in sports once you graduate. You’re a good but not great student; you’re athletic and interested in sports, but not a college student-athlete; you’ve got a passion and work ethic, but not go-to contacts. How in the world are you going to separate yourself from all of these people you hear are going into sports after graduation?
The easy answer is start connecting to people who can connect you. Early on in my coaching career, a mentor of mine told me “it isn’t all that important who you know, it is important who knows YOU.” What he meant was that you can have all of the selfies and business cards you want with big time names in sports, but they won’t mean a thing if those people don’t know who you are and what you are capable of doing. The only way that is going to happen is by developing a relationship with them through helping them in a way that only you can help — this will give you the inside track when their organization or industry has a job. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Non-profit Work: A lot of professional teams and high profile celebrities have foundations that lead non-profit work on their behalf. With limited budgets, these non-profit foundations are always looking for volunteers and interns. For example, if you’re a fan of baseball and headed home to the Boston area for the summer, you might try to connect with the Boston Red Sox Foundation (https://www.redsoxfoundation.org). See how you can help out and make yourself known to the leadership. Or you might be a huge basketball fan looking for some connections. Check out volunteer opportunities at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp (www.jaybilasskillscamp.com).
Minor League Summer Intern: There are a ridiculous amount of minor league baseball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and basketball teams in this country. No matter where you live, there is certain to be a team close by with no budget and lots of work to do. Go to the top and reach out to the President or General Manager of these minor league teams and tell them your story. Volunteer your time as an intern and let them know when you’d be available to work.
Youth Leagues: Whether you are heading home for the summer or staying around campus, I guarantee that your local parks and recreation program has a youth league that could use some help. In order to get some interesting experience, volunteer to do something other than supervise a field or babysit summer campers. Let the director of the program know that you’d love to get front office or marketing experience or would be happy to help the grounds crew, whatever it is you are specifically interested in doing long term. Ask if they have any paid positions in those areas and if not, ask if they’d be willing to give you an unpaid internship. Once you’ve got the job, don’t be a wallflower. Make sure that you speak to community leaders, parents, and visiting teams that you come in contact with…you never know where your next job might come from.
Work a Trade Show: The summer is one of the most popular times for sports trade shows. Check out conferences at: www.nacda.org, www.alsd.com, https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Conferences-Events, or https://www.athleticbusinessconference.com. Working for an organization at a trade show will put you in touch with thousands of vendors and attendees in a variety of ways. Again, volunteer your time or see if they’ll provide you housing and meals if you work for free. If you know of a vendor that you’re interested in working for someday, contact them directly and see if they can use any help with pre-show marketing and/or post show follow-up. It is a great way to show your creativity and tenacity and everyone likes someone who brings them business.
If you are going to get the inside track on a job for the future, this summer is important. Take a look around now and start planting seeds and finding ways to be involved in the sports business world any way that you can. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Just this week, I hired a former student intern from seven years ago as a Junior Account Manager in our company — he worked hard and was extremely dependable the few months he worked for me back in college. Then he continued to stay in touch after graduation as he worked a random series of jobs. Finally, the stars crossed, the timing was right, and I am excited to add him to our team. You dream job might be sitting out there just waiting for you to make that first connection.