A Realistic Look at Working in Sports

Guest writer: Carl Segura

Last week Kristi used me as an example in her post, “Working in Sports isn’t Like Riding a Bike”. This is a topic which has been on my mind lately, as I have somewhat recently transitioned out of my nascent career working in intercollegiate athletics and into a non-sports arena.

Her message, about the need to stay connected, somehow, some way, to the sports industry, is so true.

The sheer number of people looking to break in or move up in this field is staggering, and the process of seeking out a position can be humbling. When I applied to the NCAA internship program in 2009 there were over 500 applicants, and when I participated in the vetting process for the new intern class at the end of my intern year, there were 600+.

A large percentage of those candidates had graduate degrees (law, MBA, etc.), many awards and achievements (athletic or academic, or both) and had participated in sports in college (some even in the pros). This is not even considering the people who applied for the program coming from a full-time career in a non-sports field. It was a crowded pool. And that was for an internship.

I was very fortunate to be hired on as an NCAA intern in 2009-10. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and priceless in terms of its value to my career in college sports. I met a ton of high ranking officials, both at the NCAA and from member institutions in all three divisions (Presidents, ADs, Commissioners etc.). I got to put the letters “NCAA” on my resume. And yet I still remember vividly the arduous process of finding a job once my internship was completed.

You should expect any job opening in sports, whether intercollegiate or professional, to have hundreds (maybe more depending on the position) of applicants. What makes you special? How can you make it from the initial pool to an interview, and eventually to being hired?

This is reality. People want to work in sports, so the competition is fierce. Which is why staying connected (as Kristi mentions frequently, it really is about who you know) is vital.

But I am not writing this simply to echo Kristi’s post. I also want to try and illuminate the importance of setting goals and figuring out your priorities.

It is easy to state a goal: “I want to lose weight.” “I want to be an AD at a Division I school.” “I want to retire when I’m 50.” When you set a goal however you must also consider the steps through which that goal will be achieved.

Life is fluid, not a defined progression of stages or steps, but you always should be aware of potential forward moves that could be made while focusing on doing the best you can in your current role (because you never know when the next step will find you). I believe you have to be conscious of the commitment, and potentially the sacrifices, you will have to make to achieve your end goal.

Which is where priorities come into play. How bad do you want to work in sports? Is it at the top of your list of priorities? Or do you have family needs, financial considerations, or geographic preferences, or a particular field within sports that you want to work in, or a specific sport, or level of competition (college vs. pro, DI vs. DII or DIII, minor league vs. major league)?

Your priorities will also change as your life changes. When I started at the NCAA I was ready for anything. As time went on during my intern year I started realizing there were some areas I would like to work in, and some that I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole, but I was still willing to go anywhere and work my way up. Once I got my first job out of the internship, I enjoyed it so much that my career goals had shifted again (I worked for a Division II conference office and loved every minute of it). And as this was all happening I met my future (and now current) wife and realized that my life with her would eventually need to be tied to a specific area of the country, especially as we started our own family.

Once I evaluated my priorities, my wife and family was a clear number one and the career goals I had aspired to just a few years prior were secondary. So when I had an opportunity to come “home” several months ago, but that opportunity was outside of sports, I knew what I had to do.

I loved my experience working in sports, and don’t want to shut the door on that chapter of my life quite yet (which is why staying connected is something I am trying to do), but I know that if I never work in sports again I made the right choice.

Everyone is different. My best advice is to know yourself and know your priorities. And if working in sports is at the top of your list, start grinding. Find people who can help you along the way and do good work in whatever you do. Good luck!

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