The Background…
The life of an Athletic Scout is both exciting and challenging. It’s a job of travel and all consuming, sports study. Scouts are the nucleus of a successful personnel department and are core to building a championship team. Most prospect scouts scour the urban cities and countrysides of America to find the young talent that will elevate their team into prominence. Others, for sports like baseball, explore exotic locales from Japan to the Caribbean Islands for foreign, free agent talent. Professional scouts study athletes on other pro teams and recommend players for future talent acquisition, whether it is through free agency or trades. While a fan watches the game as a whole, a scout fixates on one or more players and evaluates their skills and future potential. Whether a scout is in Tallahassee following baseball prospects or Phoenix evaluating veteran forwards, their knowledge of the deepest details of their sport is key. Fans identify talented athletes by towering home runs and long, touchdown passes. But scouts must identify talent at a much deeper level. Each sport requires its athletes to have certain tools to be successful. Scouts must know the ins-and-outs of each tool, watch an athlete perform and grade each of them for future potential. And, because of the sizable area each scout is responsible for, judgments must be decisive after watching someone play only a handful of times. Before a season begins, detailed schedules are defined and scouts are assigned regions and positional focus areas. After attending games and evaluating certain players, reports and data are sent back to personnel management, often through a team’s private scouting database. The team of scouts along with the general manager use the collected information to identify potential trade options, rank prospective draft picks and determine which athletes deserve another round of scouting.

Successful scouts must be hardworking, detail oriented and love studying the fundamental skills of athletes. The ability to communicate clearly via written reports and oral discussion are vital. These talent evaluators work an incredible number of hours and are away from home a lot during the season. Hours are scaled back somewhat in the off-season and time is spent pouring over reports and data. Travel is a must and being able to appreciate its benefits and handle its challenges are both important. While the image of a scout is an older man with a notepad, radar gun and lit cigar, they come in all ages and are more analytical than ever. They need the ability to combine statistical data and naked-eye evaluation to make recommendations to team management.

The Path…
Unlike some jobs in the sports arena, a degree is not required to become a scout. But hard work and networking are not optional. The reality is most scouts are former players or coaches; connections are necessary to get into this field and former athletes intimately understand the fundamentals of the game. If you are a former professional or college athlete, you’ve crossed paths with a multitude of coaches and personnel management over the years. Tap into this network of people to learn about scouting and determine the best way to get started. If on-field or on-court athletics was not in your past but you have the desire and skill set to become a great scout, consider attending scouting school. Leagues like Major League Baseball host annual schools for current and aspiring scouts to help them understand the basics and develop the skills required to excel. Scouting courses alone aren’t your entry pass into the game though. Attend open practices and games for the league you want to work in and practice scouting players. And find out when scouts will be attending certain games to watch the local stars and make sure you’re there too. Make it a point to find area scouts, introduce yourself and start forming acquaintances. These connections will better your chances to get into the scouting game.

Patience is a virtue as, often times, initial scouting positions may be as unpaid assistants to area scouts. Once you’ve put in time as an assistant learning the basics, you’ll become an area scout covering a specific geographic area. This structure allows scouts to become intimately familiar with the players and teams that surround them. As you prove yourself to be a good talent evaluator, you’ll eventually be given a region to manage where you’ll oversee area scouts and continue making reports back to team management. If a scout makes the right contacts and is a proven star finder, an eventual move into the front office at team headquarters is a possibility. Many general managers have a scouting background because their primary responsibility is selecting talent via free agency and the draft.

The road to becoming an established scout isn’t as well defined as some other career choices. But making the right contacts and working for lesser pay while you establish yourself will get your foot in the door and allow you to prove your worth.

The Money…
Pay ranges for scouts vary widely but most reports agree that compensation is low at first but, for those with talent, has solid growth potential. Putting aside the assistant scouts who typically intern for free as they gain experience, most experts agree annual salaries may start as low as $15,000. While that number is low, the good news is successful senior scouts can easily earn a six figure salary. And keep in mind that some scouts start as part-time employees so this initial salary is supplemented by a day job. If you find yourself breaking into scouting and believe you have a knack for it, the low initial pay won’t last forever. And the emotional benefits you’ll gain from a job of passion help make the early, underwhelming paychecks more palatable. Work hard, study the craft and you’ll be promoted and make a good living while enjoying your dream of being knee deep in sports on a day-to-day basis.    

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