I was struck yesterday with a glimpse at the somewhat forgotten plight of the young, aspiring sports business professional. While currently teaching an introductory sport management class through a partnership with a local high school, I have a group of 19 students, very bright, and very young, with dreams of working in the sports industry.
These kids are younger than young. They are still in high school! And they have given up a few weeks of their summer vacation to take a class for three hours a day while most of their friends are sleeping in, at the pool, or on the beach. I am not so sure I would be this ambitious myself when I was 15-16 years old.
Of course much of my daily discussion focuses on opportunity, how to create it, what is a network, what it means to build one, how to connect with people in the sports business, the importance of using social media the "right way" and all of the same things that many of us know, and tell others on a regular basis when given the chance.
Yesterday morning, one of my students came over to tell me that he had met Ed Snider, the Chairman of Comcast and the Philadelphia Flyers, at an event the night before. He was invited to the event based on his participation in Ed Snider's Youth Hockey Foundation in Philadelphia, and took advantage of the exposure to so many Comcast and Flyers executives to take some of my advice to heart, and work the room. This young man even told me that he already had business cards and passed them out to everyone he met. Extra points. He was beaming as he told me that some of the Flyers executives chatted with him, and encouraged him to "keep in touch". I do not think this kid's feet had touched the ground since the night before. He was elated.
And so, it made me think... Do we mean what we say? For those of us that have been fortunate to carve out careers that many others envy, in an industry that is entertainment for countless others, are we genuinely reaching back and supporting those that want to do what it is we currently do?
This young man, barely able to drive a car, is doing the right things. He is involved, engaged, already developing a clean professional brand on social media, taking advantage of opportunities, and confidently going up to anyone and introducing himself and asking to learn more about what they do. He is alert in class, thinks about the topics we discuss, and asks insightful questions. He is a sponge, and probably at times, a little naive, simply due to his age.
He showed me the business cards he had collected, and I noticed that he follows professionals on Twitter, and he told me that he plans to maintain the connection, as the professionals requested that he "stay in touch". And I paused to think about the younger version of myself, when I was just as eager and green, looking for any opportunity, any break to fall in my favor. I remembered those few people that really delivered on what they said to me. The people that gave me their card, and then answered a letter or phone call a few weeks later when I mustered the courage to reach out, ask for an informational interview, or find any excuse to contact them, just so they might remember me.
And then I thought about the professional that I am today. Would I be that person who fulfills those words "keep in touch", and does not just say them, in an effort to end a conversation and move on to something else? If I am fortunate enough to ever have that type of impact on a young person, who aspires to do what I have so fortunately been able to do, will I take it as seriously as I hoped others would, when I was just starting out?
This young man has no idea how he may have impacted me.
Today, I was honored to present at the annual Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society Annual Conference. It was especially enjoyable because I have been a member of the organization since 2004, originally because I was a practitioner in the world of municipal parks and recreation. Now, I am back in the academic world, teaching future leaders and sports management professionals. Today, I spoke on issues pertaining to the practical world of being a park and rec director.
What I found really exciting, and promising, was the abundance of academics presenting at the conference. And among the presentations, were lots of great discussion and information sharing on how these two worlds can partner to further the profession, as well as help those that aspire to enter into it. Academics were not talking about statistical significance and overly-dry assessment techniques, but real benefits to both parties, and students that are looking to go from one world to the other.
There seems to be a never-ending debate on the divide that exists between those that "do" and those that "teach." This week, academics and practitioners were sharing the stage and at times, presenting together on topics like "professional development for the aspiring park and rec professional", "Innovative College Partnerships", "Planning a High School Entrepreneurial Academy"and "It’s Not an Internship... It’s a Partnership!"
How refreshing! And beneficial for all involved. Kudos, PRPS.
I just recently attended my first academic sport management conference. As a "new" full-time faculty member, I am excited to learn more about how others do things, and share great ideas. Even though I have worked in the sports industry for 25 years, and taught as an adjunct for the last 13, I consider myself a rookie when it comes to a thorough understanding of the academic side of the business. Attending the 1st annual Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) Conference was a great first impression.
I regularly preach to my students the importance of connecting with others... those who have the job you want in the future, or those that work for organizations you have an interest in joining. And I tell them that you can't simply connect on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter. I stress the importance of building relationships and in order to do that, adding value for others.
So, the response from those students is frequently, "how can I do that? I am just a college student/intern/etc." WRONG. Everyone can contribute value, and it is simply taking the time to listen, look and observe to determine where it can be done. The COSMA Conference taught this "rookie" that newcomers can still add value.
Among a group of career academics, many with extensive (and sometimes intimidating) academic CVs, I felt welcomed and valued. I have since connected with new colleagues around the country, and started dialogues around topics that are interesting and valuable to my continued development as a full-time faculty member. And as a practitioner, I have had the opportunity to "add value" for others through a sharing of contacts, opportunity and expertise. A presentation at COSMA with a colleague has opened the door to new relationships where I hope to contribute value and learn from others.
I have shared some articles and resources with others in the days following the conference, and it feels rewarding to do that. And it's validating when a 20-year veteran takes an interest in what you have to share, and demonstrates that the new kid can, in fact, add value.
I can confidently tell my students that the "new guy" can still contribute to the conversation.
One of the most important aspects of my job, I believe, is to truly prepare students to be as ready as possible to enter their chosen industry. Do I have all of the answers? Of course not. But I have been where many of them want to go, and I do have a little knowledge that I feel is important for them to consider. And when I invite guest speakers into class, and they share the same opinions and advice, without my prompting, I do feel validated. Giddy even.
A guest speaker recently asked a group of my Sports Marketing students, "who has it?" It prompts the question, "What is IT?" And the follow up, "Can IT be taught?"
To me, IT is the combination of skills, knowledge and understanding that combine to make an individual stand out, and rise to the top of the candidate pool. It includes the understanding that extends well beyond what we read in a text, or talk about in class. It involves an understanding that there are thousands of candidates for every open position, especially at the entry level, and that you do not know everything. And that means having a sense of humility and sincerity combined with a hunger that really do make a difference!
Having "it" means not sitting quietly in the back of the class, or avoiding opportunities to engage and meet new people. This can be hard, but I also think it can be taught. IT means taking advantage of every opportunity to make the right impression, be it in class or out, and not hiding behind email as a means of communication. IT means asking for informational interviews, taking the time to learn about organizations and the people that work there, and not just asking everyone you meet if their company is hiring.
Push yourself. Go to networking events. Follow industry folks on social media, and engage in the conversation. Get yourself some basic business cards, because in this digital world, they still have a place and you never know who you will meet, and where. One of my first internship opportunities happened when I was sitting on an airplane while on a weekend break from college. A gentleman next to me asked about a book I was reading, and it sparked a conversation that ultimately helped me land a great industry opportunity. When the plane was about to land, I handed him a business card. It allowed me the chance to keep the conversation going, and he noticed the professionalism. To my surprise, he called me the next day to set up a meeting. And he mentioned again that he never had a college student hand him a business card. It made an impact and for me, it made a difference.
Business cards do not mean "I need a job." Resumes do. You don't go to a networking event with a pile of resumes, but without business cards, how do you leave people with a tangible reminder of your new connection? They still have a place, and college students that have them still impress me. And others. It's a small detail that says "I get it."
IT means understanding that even though you don't have years of experience in the industry, and you are only looking for an internship, you still have something of value to add and share.
And yes, all of this can be taught. And the pre-requisite for that is, how badly do you want IT?