The Traits You Need For Sports Industry Success - Work In Sports Podcast

Hey everybody I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning for and this is the Work in Sports podcast…

Alright, this is the first time I’m speaking about this publicly, I have some big news about the podcast. Something exciting and important. 

Over the last decade, we’ve all watched at sports figures have opened up to the world. Whether via Players Tribune, their own social accounts, their voice in press conferences, what they wear, and how they display their world views - we have gotten to know athletes better. 

As I have said many times prior -- In my era, we never really knew how guys like Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Rickey Henderson felt about the world. We knew how they played, and how they acted as teammates...and that was about it. 



Back in June when George Floyd was murdered and peaceful protests took over the streets of our nation... they also took over the arenas. Athletes used their voice, sports became a greater vehicle and platform for social justice and expression. 

I for one love this. I hate the “shut up and dribble” as if athletes were placed her to sing and dance and run for us… just to entertain. These are human beings with important views and global impact. 

At the same time as George Floyd, a group of diverse young professionals also stood out from the rest of the crowd. The 2020 cohort of the  Minor League Baseball FIELD program, which stands for  'Fostering Inclusion through Education and Leadership Development' spoke up, loud and clear, when Minor League baseball was silent. 

At the time I was impressed with their unity, fearlessness, and voice. I only wish I had this strength at their age. I began connecting with each and every member of the cohort, offering to help them with their careers and network. 

And one young woman, Adrienne Brown, took it one step further. She asked is we could do a series of podcasts with the FIELD cohort to discuss being young and diverse while trying to work and make a name for yourself in the sports industry. 

Enthusiastically I said yes. 

In the month of October, we will debut our 4-part series titled Moving Forward and featuring young diverse professionals speaking their truth and sharing their experiences. We just conducted our first interview sessions last week, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with our first two guests -- Jalen Mitchell an incredibly impressive student at Howard University and Gerald Taylor, a recent graduate of Virginia State who is trying to stand out in the world of diversity and inclusion. 

The conversations are eye-opening, and important. Please listen with an open heart and mind. 

Ok, on to today’s question… Keisha from Chicago…

“Hi Brian, I’ve heard you recently in two different zoom sessions and I was captivated by your talks -- you have a very engaging demeanor and speak with so much passion! I have a follow-up question if you don’t mind answering it. You talked about the most important traits you need for the sports industry - being competitive, coachable, and curious. I wrote them down to keep me inspired. But I have a question… is being competitive just another way of saying work hard?”

Keisha -- I am so excited by this question. You submitted it via LinkedIn and many times I just respond personally to questions but this one I really really wanted to elevate to the Monday podcast. 

So here goes…. NO working hard is not the same as being competitive.

I’ll explain, but let me run through all the traits first just to get everyone else up to speed, then we’ll dive into the difference between being competitive and working hard. 

It’s true - I try to get these attributes or traits across in just about every presentation because I believe they are vital. 

Let’s start with Coachable. 

I always look for new ways to articulate and back up my theories, and just this weekend I saw “Coachable” in let’s talk about it.

My daughter, who is 13, was watching a show on Netflix with Reese Witherspoon interviewing powerful women of industry to share their story and journey. We always like to steer our daughter towards girl power narratives so she knows she can do anything. 

This interview series is great -- in one episode Reese interviews the director Ava Duvernay - who directed Selma, 13th, Wrinkle in Time -- a very cool and inspiring woman. 

She talked about how she didn’t go to film school, that she literally learned how to direct by watching directors cuts of movies where the directors basically explain every single thing they did and why. Thought that was ingenious, pretty incredible way of being coachable. But that’s not even what I wanted to point out. 

She talked about hiring staff - there are a lot of people that go into making a movie - and she said “I don’t need to hire someone who is perfect and knows how to do everything perfectly. I want to hire people who are passionate, excited, and willing and open to learning and being taught.”

“Open to learning and being taught” -- that’s being coachable. 

I’m guessing Ava Duvernay has a style and vision and process she wants her employees to be on board with that experience, fall in line with your coach. 

I say this all the time -- in the interview process being excited and passionate sells you as someone others want to be around, and then being open to learning and improving. Make it clear you are a continual learner that you strive to grow and expand, and that is what excites you. You don’t have it all figured out, you likely never will have it all figured out, but the journey to trying is what excites you.   

Secondary example -- One of my favorite quotes from Bill Belichick -- “don’t be an error repeater” -- meaning, it’s OK to make a mistake, but don’t keep making the same mistake. That’s all part of being coachable -- listening, learning, and putting the thighs you’ve learned and listened to, to work.

Ok -- curious. 

If someone asked me to describe myself I’d say curious. I want to learn about everything. I find excitement in new things, new conversations, new careers, new experiences. In the sports industry, which is constantly evolving and changing, you can’t afford to just be who you are now and stay that way forever. You have to keep pushing, and the way you do that is by being curious… learn about analytics, esports, social media ad buying, zone blitzes, cover 3, double switches, everything -- the more curious you are the more you are willing to expand your knowledge. 

That is paramount to success in the sports industry. 

And finally, we get to your question -- Hard Work vs. Competitive. 

As I stated earlier, I look for better and new ways to describe my ideas all the time. I can tell it to you in my voice, but sometimes it helps to come at it from a different direction. So I’m going to channel my inner Kara Lawson. 

Kara Lawson is the Women’s Basketball coach at Duke - she was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics and the 5th overall pick in the 2033 NBA draft. She won the WNBA championship in 2005, was an All-Star in 2007, won the league sportsmanship award twice, and the community leadership award once. 

In conclusion, she’s a badass. 

Kara in addressing her team at Duke explained the difference between hard work and being competitive. 

She said -- If I told one of you to line up on the baseline and told you that you have a certain amount of time do a certain number of sprints - you’d do it, you work hard at it, you’d be out of breath, tired.

Now if I put 4 of you on the baseline, told you the same constraints, a certain amount of time to do a certain number of sprints -- would you run differently?

Do you run differently when it is by yourself versus when you are running against others?

If I give you a task and give you some constraints on the task -- and it’s hard, it’s a hard task -- as your boss, coach, leader - I can force you to work hard. 

You can’t force someone to compete. They either have that in them, that innate desire to beat everyone else around them - or they don’t.

Ok back to me now -- in life you will work hard, you’ll have hard days, hard assignments hard challenges -- that is completely normal. Competitiveness is different, it is a frame of mind, a willingness to beat, and outdo everyone around you. That when given the challenge of work, you see it as a chance to not just work hard, but a chance to win.  

I’ll give you an example -- when I first started at CNN/Sports Illustrated I was an editor cutting up game highlights. At the beginning of each night, you’d start your shift and get your assignments. 

There are 10-15 editors each night, and I wanted to be the one getting the best games. I wanted the lead story. I wanted to be on the top game of the night because that meant I was the best and my bosses who gave out the assignments knew it.

In the real world, it’s a meritocracy. There isn’t a rotation of different people getting the lead game each night -- the best performers get the best work and I was always dying to be the top dog.  I didn’t want to get assigned three games a night, do my work well and go home. 

I wanted to get the top games of the night, do my work better than anyone else, and get the top games again tomorrow night. 

Everyone I worked with worked hard, not everyone was competitive. 

Being competitive will set you apart. Add in being curious and being coachable -- and you are unstoppable. And this is where you are a salesperson -- because your goal now is to sell yourself to others and let them know you have these attributes!

Alright Keisha I think that covers it for this week… thanks for listening everyone, I’ll see you on Wednesday -- and I can see you every day if you connect with me on LinkedIn and join me in our private Facebook community by searching for the Work In Sports podcast on Facebook. 

Stay safe out there -- wear a mask and make a plan to vote. Vote! Vote! Vote!

By Brian Clapp | September 14, 2020
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