The Seven Deadly Sins of Sports Internships

sports internships seven deadly sinsIf you are going to get hired in the sports industry the first step is interning…and so is the second step and the third.

Think of it this way, if you were in charge of hiring someone for an entry level position with a NFL team, would you rather hire the person that:

A: Had a 3.8 GPA and worked in their fathers office during summer vacation

or

B: Interned with the USGA during the US Senior Open, the Michigan International Speedway in corporate partnerships and with the New York Mets as part of their social media department.

Psst. The answer is B. And that is the actual resume of a real-life-soon-to-be-competition-for-a-job-you-are-interested-in person.

Graduating with a high GPA is nice, but it doesn’t tell employers how you can make them better, it just tells them you studied and passed tests. Internships can bulk up a resume to show you have experience achieving specific tasks in a real world business environment.

But it’s not enough to just get sports internships, you have to make the most of them.

Not to worry, we’re here to help. Avoid these seven deadly sins of sports internships and you should be ready to stick your foot firmly in the door of the sports industry.

(OK. They aren’t really deadly, I just happened to watch David Fincher’s classic movie Se7en for the 100th time this weekend and felt inspired)

Sin #1: Pride

Every sports internship is essentially a drawn out interview, every day that you have your feet planted firmly in the building you have a chance to prove you are worthy of being that company’s next hire.

“It’s a benefit for us to hire an intern because we already know their qualifications and how well they do their job,” says Katie Gambill, Vice-President/General Manager of 5-Star Radio in Clarksville, Tennessee. “We also already have a feel for how well they blend with the rest of the team.”

But being a know-it-all is the quickest way to derail any potential post-internship job opportunities.

Sports Internships rough riders

Another benefit of a sports internship – free team gear!

When you think you already know all the answers, you stop asking questions and stop being curious. Curiosity doesn’t limit, it just asks another question and absorbs more information.

Don’t lose your curiosity because you believe your pride is more important.

Advanced Tip: Some people act like a know-it-all to cover up the fact they actually are unprepared, nervous and afraid to be exposed.

I get it; I’ve actually sped down that road before. I was so overwhelmed in my first sports internship that I was afraid to ask questions for fear they’d be stupid. But I still acted like I owned the place. Total fraud.

The truth is, internship coordinators don’t really expect you to know much, they expect you to pay attention, learn and execute when taught. Don’t over think this process, be curious, and ask questions.

Sin #2: Sloth

Sports internships are a proving ground, a chance to show your work ethic, ability to complete tasks and abide by deadlines.

But not if you are lazy.

“When you get an internship, become known as the ‘yes’ person, willing to learn and do everything,” says radio host Shellie Hart.

Attitude is everything during your internship, if you bring it every day people will notice. If you are lazy or unmotivated people will notice that too.

Advanced Tip: Treat your internship like a job, don’t show up over-tired, unshaven or in clothes that look like they spent the last week on your floor. Time to show your professionalism, and put in your best effort to every assigned task.   

Sin #3: Greed

sports internships while in college

Even if you are just setting up equipment, there is something to be learned from every sports internship experience

True story, I once had an intern tell me when given a certain assignment, “Nah, I’m not doing that”.

You’re probably thinking – well, did you ask him to clean the bathroom or something?

Nope. It was his first day and his assignment was to label tapes for all the sports events we would be recording that night. That was a typical day one assignment, just to help get an interns feet wet and really grasp the enormity of the project we took on each and every night.

He thought he was too good for that task. He wanted something more glamorous, more befitting the person he thought he was.

That intern was unable to see the opportunity in front of him, and he was told not to come back for day two.

What a waste!

His selfish desire to do something other than his assigned task ended what could have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Had he worked hard, done the task to the best of his ability and thought about how he could help the business rather than himself, he would have made the most of his chance.

Advanced Tip: Don’t ever forget, when you are an intern your job is to do the things you are assigned with vigor.

Sin #4: Gluttony

Show restraint if you get invited to a work happy hour, or just out for a cocktail after work – this isn’t the time for ‘just one more’.

“I once invited an intern to come out with the crew for a few beers after a long shift,” recalls a sports reporter who would prefer to remain anonymous. “The intern got pretty drunk and started challenging me to a race out in the alley behind the bar.

sports internships

“At first I thought he was just joking, but he started to get more and more belligerent about it, telling me how fast he was and that he could kick my butt. It got uncomfortable fast.”

There is a time and place for being the life of the party, it’s in your college dorm or sorority house, not around your new co-workers.

Advanced Tip: Don’t make the mistake of trying to buy your boss a drink. It’s cheesy – they know you don’t have any money so it just creates an awkward situation. Try instead to engage them in real conversation.

Sin #5: Lust

sports internships on the field with Atl Falcons

Treat an internship like a job, dress nice, work hard, impress.

‘No cheering in the press box’ is the common refrain in the sports industry.

Working in sports means you are closely connected to the teams you love as a fan, but when you are interning you aren’t a fan, and you aren’t in a sports bar.

No jerseys, no unprofessional arguments over the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, no screaming when your team scores. Have respect for the workplace, sports is a business. It cooler than an accounting firm, but it’s still a business.

Advanced Tip: Don’t even bother sharing who ‘your teams’ are unless someone asks, it’s irrelevant to your success. On the other hand, if you find out the hiring manager is a Cowboys fan and so are you, now you have an in to start building some common ground.

Use that as a conversation starter; just don’t go overboard. Ultimately you’ll get a job because you have the skills and attitude they want, not because you know Demarco Murray was the 71st pick of the 2011 draft.

Sin #6: Wrath

There are jerks in every workplace – get used to it. Even if some fool thinks it’s empowering to talk down to an intern, don’t engage with this type of cave dweller, dismiss them.

As an intern you are unproven, it does no good to engage with someone in verbal sparring. Keeping your cool is a skill.

There are also those people in the workplace who are blamers. If something goes wrong they always look to pass the buck, and often that falls on an intern. Resist the urge to personally attack that person, just stick to the facts, calmly.

Advanced Tip: A wise person once told me to always choose your battlefield. If someone blames you for something over email and you send out a flame mail in response, you are on their battlefield, you’ll come off looking petty and juvenile. If someone is rude and dismissive, and you fight back clamoring to be heard, you are on their battlefield, they have high ground, they’ll win.

nba sports internships

Small tasks done well on an internship lead to bigger opportunities

Bide your time, you’ll find your battlefield, but in the meantime spend more time concentrating on your learning, your networking, your benefits of being an intern.

Sin #7: Envy

I was about three weeks into an internship at a large sports network and was given the assignment to run teleprompter for a new show that was debuting. I hated running prompter, it made me dizzy and I thought it was an idiots chore.

Another intern was watching and logging the lead story for that nights show – I wanted that job instead.

I thought I deserved it, I thought I had earned it.

Instead of focusing on my task and performing it to my best, I sat in envy stewing about what I wanted and I did a pretty sloppy job running prompter.

Afterward, my intern coordinator came up to me disappointed and said, “I needed someone I could trust in that role, it was a very important show we were debuting and I chose you because I knew I could trust you, but you let me down.”

sports internships lebron james

It’s peculiar that Lebron James made over $50 million last year and wants to hire an unpaid intern… but who are we to question, sounds like a fun gig.

Lesson learned.

Advanced Tip: You won’t always know the genesis or reasoning of each assignment you are given, but you need to trust your supervisors and do the best job you can with what you are given.

Even if it’s running prompter.

Final Thought

A sports internship is an audition, an opportunity for a student to take the knowledge they have begun to acquire in the classroom, and bring that to a real world work environment. It’s a unique opportunity to demonstrate to an employer what they could expect from them if they were hired in a full-time role.

Take it seriously.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.

Comments

  1. I agree with everything I read of those 7 deadly sins. If a person thinks they can get ahead of the game right of the gate, they might as well forget they applied for job. I am a 62 year man of color, that has been that route. Again this my honest opinion on the matter. Thank you.

  2. Steve Wisensale says:

    Finally, some interns are standing up on their hind legs. Law suits over unpaid internships have emerged. One of the first victories came for unpaid interns who WORKED the Charlie Rose show at WNET in New York. Surely, other cases will follow and rightly so.

    • Steve you are right, the Black Swan internship case was a big one for the film industry and many other businesses are being proactive and paying interns to avert the same problem/bad PR. Many businesses were taking advantage of interns instead of actually hiring entry level employees…paying interns is a good move. – Brian

  3. Elizabeth Milne says:

    Thank you so very much. I look forward to volunteering.

    Most sincerely,

    Elizabeth Milne

    • Elizabeth, thanks for reading – glad you enjoyed the article. – Brian

      • Jerry Garland says:

        Brian,

        I’m in agreement with most of this. I’ve had several interns myself. I will say that you do run into the “College Frat Boy” who is more interested in making himself look good than your success. I followed the “high road” playbook you described and it make this type treat me worse. He got his but sometimes…sometimes you can do it all properly but if you’re unliked, you’re done.

        • Jerry – thanks for writing in. The highroad playbook you describe was for the intern to take, not the manager, sorry if that message wasn’t clear! When I was News Director at a regional sports network I viewed internships as a privilege – if someone didn’t have the right attitude or do the tasks the way they were instructed, I gave them one warning and after that told them not to come back. There are too many hard working people who would love to have their spot! Don’t let a cocky intern ruin the culture of your workplace! – Brian

  4. Brad,

    Thank you for your advice. I interned for a premiere sports station in Chicago a few years ago and although I did OK, I could have excelled had I utilized this advice. I worked from 5 AM to 2 PM three days a week and thought that was an excuse to show up unshaven and in sweat pants. Big mistake but lesson learned. Every task presents the chance to show what you are capable of…. Take advantage of it.

    • Ryan – so much of what I write is based on mistakes I’ve made – this article was from the heart because I’ve lived it. Early in my career I was a sports producer at CNN and had this great opportunity that required me to work 4am-12noon. But I didn’t see it as an opportunity I saw it as a burden that prevented me from going out at night with my buddies. I totally wasted the chance to show my skills to a huge audience of viewers and management, and literally embarrassed the person who stuck their neck out for me – so trust me I get it.

      Here’s the key – don’t dwell on the mistakes….learn from it and move forward!

      – Brian (but you can call me Brad)

  5. Robert Rothman says:

    Hello! I don’t have a bachelors degree, but I did take a 1 year course in sports marketing in a partnership of FIFA (Federation International de Football Association), CIES (International Center of Sports Studies)and FGV (Fundação Getulio Vargas – a renowned business school in Brazil). I’m in the USA because I feel that sports are more professional in the USA than in Brazil. I’d like to work for a sports organization (competitive sports like soccer or basketball, but not only). Do you have an opinion on what steps I should take to get one? Thank you for whatever help you might provide.

    Sincerely yours,

    • Robert – thanks for writing in, you should really check all the articles on our blog, we have advice on jobs in sports marketing, sports broadcasting, sports management, you name it! All the advice is in there and it’s 100% free so take a cruise and see what fits you. If you still have questions, feel free to ask away! – Brian

  6. The reality is, if you live in a big city and have student loans, its next to impossible to break into this world. Regardless of how hard a worker you are, unpaid internships are not realistic when you have bills and rent to pay. Getting a job as a bartender in your spare time isn’t much help either, since most internships require you to work nights and weekends. Its absurd that businesses (not limited to sports) still get away with not paying interns – but the catch-22 is you can’t get a paid position unless you work as an unpaid intern first.

  7. This article is spot on, and although avoiding these have become a part of my nature, it’s great to see them in print and examples being provided. This is now the third time I’ve read it since starting graduate school this past Fall.

    Currently volunteering with two sport organizations, having been hired as an assistant coach after volunteering the year before, and having completed a high profile internship over the winter break, I’ve seen on multiple occasions where one could succumb to these. Having completed a career in the military and rising to senior positions, I kept reassuring myself by maintaining a “Mission First” focus. No one is bigger than the mission and if it requiring me to perform a less desirable task, I knew that it was in support of something much greater.

    Having completed one career, I had to keep in mind that there would potentially be times when I would be just as experienced, if not more, as those senior to me. This required patience. In two of my previous experiences, I’ve worked for full time interns and although I may have done something a bit different, I had to realize that they were learning and developing as leaders and managers.

  8. I agree with this article. I have been trying to get an internship in sports for awhile now. I am currently working on a masters in sports management and I figured I better get an internship if I want a job in the industry. I recently got a call back from a sports company (I will not name), they kept asking,” are trying to do one for college credit.”I told them I was in school but it wasn’t for credit. This immediately disqualified me. So now the only internships I qualify for are the paid ones. The sad part is I am not looking for money, I just want the experience. Some companies will pay students by giving them college credit. Other sports industries in the surrounding area pay their interns but this doesn’t. If I every get an internship in the sports industry I will cherish it and do everything that I am asked. The greed intern should be ashamed, it is some of us that would love to have been in your shoes.

Trackbacks

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