6 Myths About Sports Careers and Why You Need to Ignore Them

sports careers myths career advice
You don't have to be the next Kobe Bryant to have a successful sports career
Myths are a potent elixir, they often help a negative thought gain roots in your brain and convince you of pending failure.

They generally represent the start of an excuse, the reason we provide for why we can’t accomplish something, or why the deck is stacked against us. They prey on the weak-minded, giving an easy way out rather than the motivation to push through, make adjustments or find a way.

I get hundreds of emails and comments from sports career minded people per week and I’m amazed at the negative self-talk they put themselves through. Somewhere along the way they have been convinced that they can’t achieve, and therefore they wallow in self-pity seeking out a Hail Mary moment where someone else finds the answer for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the emails, comments and LinkedIn discussions - I spend a great deal of my time answering every single one – but I often feel I need to re-program thoughts and notions just to get started making progress.

These are the 6 most common myths for sports careers I hear and why they are ridiculous. If you are telling yourself any of these STOP NOW! Don’t lean on excuses like these, find a way to power through them.

Sports Career Myth #1:

"If I don’t know exactly what I want to do after college, I should just go get a Masters Degree"

A Masters degree is not a time-killer as you wait for the right sports career avenue to smack you in the face. It should be a well-research career step, where the goal at the end is clear.

sports careers do I need a masters
Being a career student doesn't always set you up for success in sports
Before deciding to get a Masters degree you should be able to answer this simple question: “What do I want to do, and why is a Master degree necessary for that career step?”

If you can’t answer that, stop the application process now and get to work!

Many jobs in sports don’t require a Master’s degree so by pursuing one, you have actually wasted time and money that you could have put towards actual work experience.

A Better Plan for Sports Careers: If you know you want to work in sports, but are unsure of what discipline, consider working at a large sports company with many different career paths inside of it. Think Nike, ESPN, Octagon etc. – all of these companies have sales jobs, content jobs, marketing jobs, business jobs and much, much more.

Now once you get you foot in the door of a company like that, you can meet people from other departments, volunteer in other groups in your downtime, set up informational interviews and meet mid-level hiring managers of other groups.

This is a much better way to start building a sports career path versus getting a Masters without any direction or purpose.

If you really want to get a Master's degree, getting a job first is still usually the best approach. You'll gain more experience, additional career focus, learn from your managers, build your network and many companies will subsidize advance schooling which defrays your costs!

Sports Career Myth #2:

"I should hold out for the perfect job"

I kind of wish I had a shock collar I could put on people when they say they, ”I don’t want to work in sports sales” or “think there is something better around the corner” or any other variation of that theme.

Here’s the deal, the people that are currently working in sports didn't get their dream job out of college, they got A job and then figured the rest out.

According to a 2013 study conducted by CareerXRoads, 42% of all hires were internal candidates. That means, if you have a sports job you are highly likely to get the next one if you are in the building already.

I completely understand why some people don’t want to work in sales, it has a negative connotation, but it is the most common entry point to sports careers, and can lead to much bigger things, so don't ignore the opportunity!

A Better Plan for Sports Careers: It’s more important to work for the right company than it is to have the perfect job title. Having a reputable company on your resume gives you immediate credibility and provides career opportunities from within.

Most importantly though, take the job that comes your way and view it all as a stepping stone in your career growth.

sports sales jobs sports careers

Sports Career Myth #3:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

This could be my biggest pet peeve of all time. What a cop out.

There are two people that say this line:

  1. Those who know many people and have gotten by without much hard work

  2. Those immune to hard work, that use this as an excuse for why they haven’t been hired

(or people hosting networking mixers at the local bar)

sports careers what you know who you know
Networking events make me break out in hives.
Yes, networking helps, and yes you should make it part of your career plan, but for anyone that thinks it is the be-all-and-end-all, I have news for you – you’re wrong. The truth is getting hired is a combination of many things, I’d estimate it’s 60% the skills you have, 20% the people you know and 20% timing.

When businesses were thriving hiring was easy and had very little risk associated. Now with many businesses still pulling themselves out of the financial mess our country fell into, every hire better be able to contribute and make a difference or else a hiring manager could lose their job.

Long gone are the days of hiring to help a friend, or giving the nice kid with charisma a chance. If you don’t have skills it doesn't matter who you know.

Advocates of this myth will tell you it’s a congested job marketplace and the only way to get noticed is by knowing someone. While that statement is true, it takes much more than knowing someone.

A Better Plan for Sports Careers: Intern, volunteer, become a guest author on a sports blog, join LinkedIn groups and contribute your thoughts, enhance your skills, study job descriptions and find out what employers want. Connections come as part of these actions.

The key is to keep improving yourself and let networking be a byproduct of those actions.

Sports Career Myth #4:

"I've heard getting a Sports Management degree is career suicide"

There is no such thing as bad publicity, if people are talking about something, even if it's negative, that’s better than being ignored completely.

I bring this up because more and more people seem to be talking about Sports Management degrees and pointing out how terrible they are – Mark Cubanthis guythe New York Times, and I’m sure Ann Coulter will weigh-in on it soon.

Let’s tie this into recent events, shall we?

Over the last 50 years soccer in the US has been talked about as the “sport my kid plays”, never a serious consideration on the sports broadcast landscape. Yet, in the last 10 years the growth has been unavoidable, with the recent USA-Portugal World Cup match being the most highly watched event on ESPN outside of the NFL. Overall, viewership for the 2014 World Cup is up 44% over the 2010 version.

Still there have been more negative articles about soccer as there have been positive ones.

Where there is popularity there are always contrarians. Get used to it.

I’m not here to tell you a major in sports management leads to a golden path for career success, quite the contrary, I’m here to tell you success is way more about you than it is the major.

If you don’t take sales electives – that is your fault.

If you don’t do smart internships – that is your fault.

If you don’t find out what employers need and learn those skills – that is your fault.

A Better Plan for Sports Careers: If you just go through the motions of showing up to class it doesn't matter if you have your MBA, an economics degree or an Art degree - you won’t do much with it. Don’t blame the degree, or start shaking in your boots if you are 2 years into a 4 year sports management program, take personal ownership in your success.

The pressure is on you to do more than just show up.

If everyone is telling you a sports management degree is a waste, don’t tune it out, listen to why they believe that and find out if you can do it the right way so it isn't a waste. Read the article by Mark Cuban,  if you actually read the words and not just the headline what he really says is “you are missing out if you don’t learn sales skills”.

Don’t throw out the degree, just adjust your approach to it!

I’d argue if you have a love for sports and business, major in sports management, but be sure to take classes and electives that give you career skills that are needed in the job marketplace. Don’t just take the classes that look like fun; learn tangible skills that translate to sports careers like sales.

sports management jobs sports careers

Sports Career Myth #5:

"The more resumes I send out the better my chances are for getting hired"

I call this the “Shotgun Technique” – just spray your resume out to as many companies as possible and wait for the magic to happen.

Here’s the list of problems with this technique

  1. You form letter everything, nothing is personalized

  2. You apply for jobs you may not be a match for and frustrate hiring managers

  3. You lose track of who you have applied to, now if someone follows up via phone how prepared are you to answer intelligently?

  4. You become frustrated faster as the list of non-responses or rejections pile up

A Better Plan for Sports Careers: Target specific companies and specific sports careers you are a match for, jobs that fit you! (What a novel idea!)

  1. Study the job description of each job and write a personalized cover letter highlighting the skills you have and how they line up with the skills this company needs.

  2. Keep an active spreadsheet of the jobs you have applied for, the contact name, the skills required, the location etc. so that you can reference it quickly if you get a call from a hiring manager out of the blue.

  3. Cross-reference your LinkedIn connections with people that work at each company to see if you know anyone that works there.

  4. Figure out the number of jobs you can apply to per week that allows you to maintain a personalized approach, maybe that is 5-10 or maybe it is 2-3. The amount is different for every person. Make sure your job seeking approach is based on quality not quantity.

Sports Career Myth #6:

"My major determines my career, if I mess up that choice I mess up my life"

When a hiring manager reviews resumes what do they look for? It’s an important question because it helps determine how you format your resume and tells you the most important things to focus on in your college or early career.

sports career path
There isn't just one path to a sports career, there are many choices to be made along the journey
Here’s the answer – GPA and major matter very little, experience counts.

Employers care about work-related experience, and while it may look strange for a Romance Languages major to apply for a job at ESPN, if they have prior work experience, even as internships, at CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report – who cares!

There are benefits to having the right major, especially in careers that require certain technical skills like television production, but the truth is you can make a sports career out of many different majors.

In fact, one major can lead to many different careers, so the best advice is to choose a major that interests you and be willing to change it if you start to lose interest.

Final Thought

Don’t believe everything you hear. Sports careers are constantly changing, for example, jobs in analytics and social media barely even existed 5 years ago and now they are some of our biggest sectors of career growth.

Often myths like those listed above were once a reality, but things change, people change and the economy changes from right under our feet.

Sometimes you have to tune out the noise, listen to your heart, follow your passion with vigor and take a few risks.
By Brian Clapp | July 13, 2014
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