Dealing with Nerves in Your Sports Job Interviews - Work in Sports Podcast e49

By Brian Clapp | February 13, 2018

Tactics and strategies to handle the nerves and anxiety common in job interviews

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast.

Like you, I’m a massive sports fan. I’m especially glued to my seat for major events. Super Bowls World Series, Olympics – there is a certain lift that comes from the moment. It’s tangible, you can feel it.Your Sports Career Questions Answered

Honestly, I spent much of my career marveling at the ability of top athletes to control their nerves. That often seems to be the thing that separates the best in the world from the very good.

I was watching the luge event at the Winter Olympics and they race 4 times and their collective time is their final standings. There is no chance to throw out their worst time, or have a mulligan, four times four scores, that’s it.

And even still, the difference between 1st and 8th was tenths of a second.

I sit and watch the Super Bowl and my hands start getting nervous, my stomach wrenches…and I think – how do they keep things straight?

If I was a pitcher in the World Series, I’d Rick Ankiel that thing and throw it to the backstop – google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Suffice to say he was one of the biggest pitching prospects of the 1990’s and he stopped being able to find the plate… actually it was worse than that, he couldn’t throw within 5 feet of the plate.

I know I had him on my fantasy team. It sucked.

Now, those of you listening may never have a moment where millions of people are watching as you have your moment to shine. BUT, we all have events that make us scared, fearful and a bit crazy – none more so than the interview process.

But it isn’t just interviews, it’s presentations, public speaking, yearly performance reviews – there are always events that will go on in your life that will bring nerves and anxiety. A fear response.

Which is why I chose this week’s question from Anita in Portland, Oregon – it speaks to everyone:

Hi Brian, Love the podcast, I just started listening around Christmas, and was hooked after listening to your interview with Shaun Richard at Ohio State. (Thanks Anita I liked that one too) My question is a pretty simple one. I’ve had three interviews in the last 3 months, but I bombed them each because of nerves. I just get tongue tied and stumble and I don’t know how to stop it. Any ideas?

Yes Anita I have some strategic and tactical ideas you can employ. Just a reminder, Anita gets a free month at WorkinSports for having her question read on the air. She’ll have full access to all of our 6,000 plus jobs and internships, plus tools and features to help make her job search easier.

First off, you need to get out of your head. Once you make a blunder like stumbling on an interview the worst thing that can happen is you overanalyze and belabor the event. You end up get it locked in your head that it wasn’t a singular accident or mistake, instead was the start of a pattern that you’ll never break free from.

You get it locked in your head and it becomes a preconceived notion that you will fail again. Once you believe it, it’s hard to convince yourself otherwise. But you can, because you have to. You really have no choice, you can train yourself to believe once again, or you can go on failing.

Those are the only two choices, and to me the choice is obvious.

That’s all nice and good – but that’s not an action plan, it’s a feel good story. So lets get into the action.

1: Generally speaking, people who are inherently nervous try to script things out in their head. They memorize responses to logical question. Maybe they download an ebook on the most common interview questions and they rehearse ad nauseum, thinking this is preparation, and preparation leads to success!

Because that’s what the ebook told them.

Here’s the problem with that – when you try to script out of memorize answers you never sound natural or confident, it all seems forced and inauthentic. Also, if anything is outside of your script, if you have any stuttuer or get asked a question off routine, then it all falls apart, panic sets in and everthing snowballs.

I saw this happen a lot when I would interview people. If I thought they were being too robotic, I would ask a question that I knew was easy, but one they hadn’t probably prepped for – something like “What was your favorite class in school, and why?” or “What’s the best sports event you have ever been to?” or “When did you decide you wanted to work in sports”

These weren’t meant to trip someone up, rather I was trying to loosen them up and see if I could discover the real person in the inside.

If someone couldn’t break script and think on their feet to talk about their favorite sports event of all-time, then I’m sorry no match. Someone so locked into a script or a rehearsal, wouldn’t function in a rapidly changing environment like sports.

Instead: The game plan you should go in with, is maybe you write some things down because it helps trigger memories in your mind and keep it sharp, but don’t memorize. You need to know information from your heart and your soul, trust in your education, your experience and let that come through. If you go scripted it’s not going to work well.

I tell people all the time, don’t be afraid to tell stories, meaningful stories. If someone asks you about your love of sports, tell it true.

Don’t act scripted, act genuine. Scripting will not help your nerves and will not make you more successful in the interview process, or a presentation whatever.

2: The right kind of preparation is important.

If you haven’t looked at your resume in a while, familiarize yourself with it and what you’ve said. Many interviewers will feed off of your resume to ask questions – “It says here you started your career at CNN Sports, tell me about that experience”

Before any interview go through your thoughts and memories of positive things you’ve done on each job. Accomplishments, achievements, leadership moments. Get these in your deep mental picture.

Famous Chefs create Master Recipes – they aren’t master because of their refinement, they are actually a base that many other recipes can be built off of. A Master Recipe could be a foundation for 30 different sauces – i.e. they all start with the same components and then branch off into different specifics.

Your positive memories of your job achievements and leadership displays are your Master Recipes. They can be the answer for a multitude of questions, with just a little tweaking to make it work for the questioners specific ask.

You could have a specific story that could answer any question related to leadership, teamwork, overcoming adversity etc.

That’s’ smart prep.

Next level smart prep – Know their business. Read current articles, figure out how they make money, know the job description inside and out, know the people in the department and have an idea of their background.

Study this business.

The more prepared you are in your own head, and in yoru knowledge of this business the better off you will be.

3: If you are a naturally nervous person – load up your schedule with other things in advance of your interview. Be busy.

It sounds kind of contradictory, but lets say you have a sports job interview tomorrow, schedule yourself for as much stuff to do as you can possibly jam in today and even the morning before your sports job interview. Book your schedule.

The reason is, the more downtime you have the more chance you have to build anxiety in yourself and the more stressed out you become. Then you are not going to do a great job.

What you need to do is keep your mind busy and have a lot of other things scheduled so you go into your reactive mode, where you are just going through your daily motions, not taking a lot of downtime to stress about your upcoming sports job interview. Then, when the job interview comes, you can be a little more mellow and prepared because you haven’t built up an inordinate amount of tension.

4: Build a routine for yourself.

I’ve been very into the Winter Olympics and have been reading a great deal about the athletes mental preparation. All of them build routines.

Snowboarder Jaime Anderson literally hugs a tree before a race because it helps her feel grounded.

Michael Phelps visualizes everything that could go wrong and figures out how he would respond to it, so nothing seems unprepared for.

Many focus on breathing or meditating or listening to music. Whatever makes you feel in the zone do it.

5: Final tip which is very tactical.

I talked to a friend who presents all the time, but would consider herself an introvert in nature. Trust me you would never know from meeting this person, she speaks to huge crowds and seems flawless, but inside she’s a bundle of nerves.

She told me she took years to figure out exactly what it was that made her nervous. She was able to determine she had massive anxiety dreams about two things: losing her voice on stage…and throwing up.

So she developed a plan. She ate a banana 15 minutes before going on stage, because that helped settle her stomach. And she drank a glass of warm water right before going out, which helped warm up her vocal cords and keep her feeling ready to speak.

Once she analyzed her root fear, her nerves went way down.

So here’s the deal for you:

  • Get it out of your head that you are going to fail. That will not help you.

  • Don’t script or memorize answers. That will just get you too robotic and you’ll fail when any variable is thrown at you

  • Fill your schedule leading up to the interview – less down time means less stress time.

  • Build a routine for yourself.

  • Go to the root of your nervousness, what is it you fear, and figure out of there are little things you can do to help push you through, even if it’s just a placebo affect.

Thanks for your great question Anita – again Anita will get a free month on our site, Work in the #1 job board for the sports industry for almost 20 years.

And if you want your questions answered on an upcoming podcast – just email me podcast at or join our private facebook group by searching for “The Work in Sports podcast” on facebook.

For the Work in Sports podcast I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and …I think I’m done.

Sign In or Register to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.

Search for Sports Jobs

Sign In or Register
to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.