work in sports

You cross the stage to receive your diploma. As you shake hands with your university’s president and smile for your photo opp, you’re in a daze of excitement and relief. You made it, but when you start to file out of your graduation ceremony, it dawns on you — you’re officially starting your career journey today.

When you decide you want to work in sports, you’re faced with an important opportunity for self-reflection. Ask yourself: Do I have what it takes to succeed in the sports industry?

Each person has specific traits and qualities to help them succeed, both in school and in the workforce. To get a better understanding of what these ‘X factors’ are, we contacted John Walls, an instructor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies Master’s in Sports Industry Management. He’s seen his students go from tossing their caps in the air to thriving in the sports industry.

Not to mention, he continues to thrive in his sports career, which includes nearly 20 years of experience in broadcasting, for both local affiliates and national programs, like Fox Sports Net and ESPN. He knows what X factors play a key role in a sports career.

Here are the top X factors that Walls highlights as crucial if you want to succeed in school and in your sports career:


When you work in sports, no matter your position, you’re bound to take on assignments that come with minimal instructions. This is a familiar challenge, which you probably experienced in college. The best thing to do is make it your own.

“Students who can work independently are attractive employees,”  Walls said. “Everyone goes through a learning curve when they start a new job, but I’ve found that students who are able to take a task and run with it are a pleasure to have on your team. I also liked to have employees who could figure things out for themselves and work through challenges or issues.”

Independence is important because you learn how to motivate yourself, take initiative, manage your time, and organize.


A lot of people misunderstand the concept of fearlessness. It’s not about ignoring fear or denying the existence of it. Fearlessness involves overcoming feelings generated by fears.

“As an employer, you don’t expect a new team member to have all of the answers right out of the gate, but the willingness to take on unfamiliar work duties and the fearlessness to tackle a problem are invaluable,” Walls said “Those traits show a self-assurance and confidence that can take you a long way.”

To overcome fears of the unknown, learn how to respect the role fear plays in your mind. Instead of letting fear stop you, as Walls suggests, build confidence through more experience, acquiring knowledge, and mastering skills. Take action despite feeling fear, and make it a habit.

Try defining what specifically holds you back through ‘fear setting,’ which is a writing activity that gives you a clear vision of what you’re worried about. Write three columns on a sheet of paper, and title them as ‘define,’ ‘prevent,’ and ‘repair.’

Under ‘define,’ list 10 to 20 things that could go wrong. Then, under ‘prevent,’ write about how you could prevent or reduce the likelihood of those bulleted points from happening.

In the ‘repair’ column, describe how you can repair damage from each worst-case scenario, or identify who you can ask for help. This exercise helps you better understand what’s holding you back, which makes it easier for you to take action.

Ability to Prioritize

Just as you do in school, you should also be able to prioritize your tasks and assignments in the professional world.

“It’s critical that students are able to prioritize their work and make sure they’re spending the right amount of their most precious resource, their time, on what matters the most,” Walls said. “It’s sometimes easy to get distracted or get a bit lost in the weeds on a project, so taking a step back from time to time and evaluating what needs to be done and when is important.

“That carries over to the workplace. Recognize the difference between what has to be done and what isn’t a top priority, and you can structure your workloads and schedule accordingly.”

When you face several tasks at once, it’s best to first list out each task. Then identify the urgency of each one and determine the value of them.

Finally, estimate how much effort each task needs and order them, either by those that require the most or the least effort. However, it’s equally important to embrace flexibility and prepare for change to happen.


Most people who work in sports are involved in dynamic team settings, so learning how to interact with others is vital. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2016 Survey found that 79 percent of employers look for ‘ability to work on a team’ on a candidate’s resume, making it one of the most sought after skills.

“A positive, team-oriented attitude is a must,” Walls said. “I also can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is to be a true team player. Working toward a common goal and achieving success is a great feeling, and learning how to do that in a collaborative setting is paramount.

“Don’t worry about who gets the credit. If you do your part and the team succeeds, good things will happen to you. Be supportive of your colleagues, make sure you take care of your business first and do your assignments.”

Show your support by recognizing everyone’s accomplishments and actively listening to others’ suggestions. At the same time, ensure you can clearly express yourself and focus on finding solutions, instead of obsessing over problems that arise.

You cultivate these X factors through your academic pursuits, so make the most of those college years. Then, continue to strengthen these as you start researching potential employers and finding work in sports.  

How are you building on these X factors to prepare for work in sports?


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