Embrace the Winding Road of a Sports Career

sports career path

There isn’t just one path to a sports career, there are many choices to be made along the journey

There is an expectation that comes with higher education that the mere accomplishment of graduating should align you perfectly with the career opportunity you desire.

It’s a simple equation: Get Degree + Find Dream Job = (Get Dream Job + Live Happily Ever After)

Of course employers should want you, you have a degree!

I had a friend in college, who whenever a guy would check them out she’d utter something like, “can you blame them?” More often than not it was false bravado said in jest, but she felt that she deserved the second looks, just like many job seekers believe they deserve the job they want.

But employment isn’t the same as the meat market. Sometimes people stop wanting you, even with your shiny degree and pretty hair.

Embrace the Winding Road of a Sports Career #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

This expectation only increases the higher your degree.

“But I have my Masters!” is the job seekers refrain.

“But we want experience!” is the employer response.

This is not intended to desecrate the Masters degree or higher education, or the sense of entitlement that comes along with it. You are right to feel like you earned something, you are right to feel a little entitled, why else would you have paid your hard earned money to achieve something so hard, unless you thought it would propel you to the exact career you wanted?

But the reality is, you don’t go from graduation to dream job right away. In fact, it’s almost never a straight line to your intended career, it’s usually more of a zigzag, full of detours and setbacks.

So How Do I Get to My Dream Sports Career?

This is a smart and common question that came from the comments section of our blog:

I already hold a Masters in Sports Management with an Emphasis on NCAA Compliance, however there are not institutions willing to give a person without any experience a job as a compliance officer. How would you proceed or continue without becoming frustrated with your job search?

This question comes to us in many forms:

  • “I have a degree in sports broadcasting, but no one is hiring, what should I do?”
  • “I just finished my Masters in Sports Administration, now what?”
  • “I did four internships while in college, I feel I’m qualified for the jobs out there but no one responds to me, what should I do?”


First off, we feel your pain. While most research indicates unemployment is historically low, it doesn’t always feel that way when you are in job seeker mode. I feel especially sympathetic to recent graduates, who are excited to join the workforce and declare their independence, only to be met with a harsh reality that smacks them in the face.

It’s hard out there folks, we get it.

But before we turn this into a pity party and validate all the excuses you’ve already conjured up, let’s get to some truths:

  1. There are good jobs out there
  2. They aren’t reserved for the people who know someone
  3. They can be yours
  4. Even if you take a winding road to get there

Embrace the Winding Road of a Sports Career

Let’s get back to the question posed by the commenter above shall we?

Experience matters, there is no way around that. And while internships help in the pursuit of experience, many employers expect, or rather demand, more than that. Don’t get frustrated with the process, change your standards.

1: Start Small

If you want to work in NCAA compliance, think John Carroll University not Ohio State University and consider Winston-Salem State before Florida State. In most sports jobs, whether it is in marketing, broadcasting, sales or compliance you’ll need to start lower than your expectations.

That’s OK!

Don't be afraid to start small in your sports career, think AHL before NHL #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

At a small shop you’ll learn the business inside and out, primarily because smaller employers need you to multi-task since they don’t have large staffs to specialize.  Don’t be afraid to build yourself up to the big players.

sports careers are frustrating

Seeking out sports jobs can be frustrating, but just remember people are getting hired everyday – time to learn from what they are doing that you aren’t

One of my favorite reporters that I’ve ever worked with in sports broadcasting started out in Bozeman, Montana and is now in Boston – that’s the way these darned sports careers work.

2: Be willing to relocate

When you are just starting out, don’t limit your potential job openings to those within a 30 minute drive of campus or your parent’s house. Search far and wide – you are just starting your adventure, be willing to see a new part of the world.

Opportunities open up when you expand your horizons.

3: Take a job at the right company, even if it isn’t the right title

Let’s say you have identified four companies that would be your dream scenario, be willing to take an alternate job at that company just to get your foot in the door.

Sticking with the compliance example, maybe your dream is to be at the University of Washington, but the compliance office is small, the jobs are not available and you are frustrated by your lack of inroads.

Make your own inroads!

Take that job at UW in media relations, or sports sales, or marketing or whatever. Now you are in the door at your dream company and it’s just a matter of time until you get your dream opportunity. Make an appointment with the compliance officer, tell them your dream of being part of their department and ask if they can guide you on how to accomplish that career goal.

Don’t get locked into the compliance example, this works for any and all professions. When I first started out as a production assistant at CNN/Sports Illustrated, I scheduled a meeting with the executive producer to learn what I needed to do to get where they were. It was awesome. I learned a great deal, crafted and action plan and now, this person in charge knew how serious I was about getting where I wanted to go.

Later in my career when I became an EP, I was always meeting with young people to help them with their career path and goals.

The reality is, no matter how strong your degree or work ethic, you probably won’t start out in your dream sports career right out of school – start small, get in the building, meet the right people, learn the right things…and you’ll get there eventually!

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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.

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