Historically, it was rare to gain employment in key sports industry positions without having first played the game. Upon retirement, some players joined the media, entered coaching or accepted a front office position. They learned their new trade from mentors, not by earning a degree or working their way up from the bottom. Recent years have more-and-more non athletes filling these core roles. Successful bloggers, ivy-league business school graduates and unpaid interns eventually work their way into top levels of sports organizations. But do players’ insights, from their days on the field, still give them a head start on the competition?
Athletes have connections in sports that can’t be rivaled. The biggest advantage athletes have when entering the business side of sports is the network they’ve built along the way. Respected athletes have an expansive social circle of players, management, media outlets and coaches to utilize in their career transition. This group of friends and acquaintances prove valuable when looking for an “in” to high profile jobs in the competitive sports landscape. Those who weren’t professional athletes must be prepared to start from the bottom and build up a network slowly as they navigate their team’s org chart. Former athletes may retire and accept positions with major TV networks or as top-level assistant coaches while others must take entry-level positions until they prove their worth. Athletes have an amazing advantage that should be leveraged to its fullest.
Athletes must overcome the learning curve. Most former athletes transition into sports business with a far different set of expectations than people entering the industry out of school. Retired professional athletes are accustomed to being recruited and given preferential treatment largely because of their natural ability. These career athletes have yet to face the learning curve that comes with starting a new job. They must develop a new skill set and learn on-the-fly, not an easy task for someone solely focused on playing sports from a very young age. While playing, athletes rely on in-game instincts and some, mistakenly, use this same method of decision making off-the-court. Being successful in their post-playing career requires more than just snap judgment however. Attention to detail, critical film study and hours of research go into everything. Even the instincts of the best player in the world won’t translate into smart business decisions unless it’s coupled with the right amount of research and effort. The initial transition years can be difficult but taking opportunities to learn from those above and below you will help overcome that learning curve and establish your second career.
Athletes have the work ethic and guts to succeed. It’s rare to find a lazy, unmotivated person on a professional sports team. The path to the pros is a combination of endless work outs, practices and games along with an undying faith in long term success. For an ex-player to become a truly successful media member, front office executive or coach, they must attack it with the same focus and rigor that brought them to the pros. The grind of getting up early every morning to run or take extra batting practice is easily applied to the business side of the industry. But instead of those extra swings or running sessions, the time is spent reading scouting reports, talking to players and analysts or learning the history of the game. Those who reach the sports pinnacle did so while accepting the immense risk that goes along with it. The percentage of high school and collegiate athletes that go on to play professional sports is minuscule. But they’re willing to put most everything else on hold – family, education, travel – until they either reach their goal or fail trying. Most athletes have a high risk tolerance giving them the ability to take chances and focus on making the right decisions for the team, not for their own career. Former athletes can succeed in the fast-paced, high risk sports industry because of the effort they’ll put in and the chances they’ll take to become successful.