New Beginning

I feel like it wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about stepping into my first full time job at American University, but then again, it wasn’t.  Now that I am entering week 3 here at Fordham, I wanted to take a second to write a little bit about my experience so far, and how the progression in the industry just simply makes sense.

Everything that I had heard about this place going into it has held true.  Great people, strong emphasis on both athletics and academics, and a place that over the years has learned how to maximize its resources to provide a positive experience for students, staff, fans, and more.  Even though it’s been a short two weeks, I know that there is a lot for me to learn, and this will be a great opportunity for me to grow in my career.

One of the nicest parts of stepping into this role was seeing how the progression I had taken in my previous jobs/internships/volunteer experiences have helped me get started on the right foot.  Many times for those who are just starting up in the college athletic industry, you may feel frustrated or anxious to move up.  Don’t be.  There is a reason why there are so many small steps that need to be taken in order to increase your role and responsibility in different departments.  I can honestly say as an intern first getting started, I was naive to the fact that there was so much that I was not ready to handle (and at the time thought I was).  Stepping into this role at Fordham, while my responsibilities and work load have increased, it is clear to see why and how the internships and smaller roles that I had to take on earlier in my career have helped prepare me for this.

I have spoken about this before, but it is worth mentioning again: Separate the short from the long term any time you are stepping into a new gig.  What do you need to know now, and what do you need to have on your radar for later.  It is the easiest way to prevent yourself from becoming too overwhelmed and learning your role in the most efficient way possible.  Along with that, you need to be able to find the perfect balance of patience, and ambition.  What do I mean by that?

Patience:  Trust the process.  Embrace the smaller roles, tackle the tasks early on that are given to you by your supervisors, and have the “yes man” mentality in order to learn as much as possible.  Do not get frustrated if you feel like you have more to offer.  Your time will come, and there is a reason why you are not taking on those responsibilities yet.

Ambition:  Stay motivated.  Just because you are not getting to tackle some of those larger tasks yet, continue to learn, ask questions, and get involved any way you can.  You will appreciate it more as you move up the ladder, and thank yourself for embracing the obstacles and small opportunities that are in front of you.

College athletics, just like any other industry, is a process.  There is a reason why I walk in to work every day and see people in larger roles who have been involved for 15, 20 years.  There is A LOT that goes into it.  It is ever changing, and the experiences that you build on throughout your career all lend a hand in how successful you can be.  Stay the course, work hard, and continue to learn.

 

 

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Quicker Than Expected

As of yesterday, I have formally accepted a new job at Fordham University as the Athletic Facilities and Events Manager.  After a short one year at American University as the Athletics Operations Manager, I am moving on and really excited for this new opportunity.  Before I get into this post I would like to personally thank my boss Jordan Tobin at American University for the opportunity to work for him over this past year. His leadership, industry knowledge, willingness to work, and support over this recent process have been everything I could ever have asked for in a boss with my first full time job.  I don’t take that for granted, and will be forever grateful for my experience here and where it has lead me.

For those who follow my blog, this may come as a bit of a surprise.  I have been on record talking about the challenges I was looking forward to entering year two at American, and coming into this role being that it was my first full time job in college athletics, I had every intention of staying for multiple years to try and make a long lasting impact.  However, I have also spoken several times on the importance of family, and how that sacrifice in almost every case is necessary if you are determined to advance in this industry.  Think about it: Division I athletic program, school that values education, specific department openings (2-3 positions per department), just about narrows it down to really 2-3 schools (and really 2 total jobs that I’m qualified for!) that I would be willing to take a chance on and continue my career at, that also happen to allow me to live home and be close to my family.  Needless to say, the opportunities are scarce, and I found one.

I am so excited for this new opportunity, and after 3 years of working, learning, and networking in order to get a head start in this industry, I have finally found a place where I can excel in my career and be around my family, both things I put such a high value on in my life.  I also recognize that this is something I should not take for granted. Yes I have worked hard to get here, but I still have a long way to go to really get to where I want to be.  The hard work is only getting started…

As I have mentioned before, time and time again, this blog is meant for me to try and inspire people who want to pursue this career path, or any career path, that motivates them to no end.  I have a purpose, I have figured out the “why” and I am not going to stop until I have accomplished everything it is that I want to in this industry.  So many people have expressed the challenges that come with working in college athletics.  Multiple internships, volunteer experiences, low salaries early on, but I wasn’t willing to accept any of it.  I always knew if I worked hard, treated people right and put a value on building strong relationships with successful people in the same industry, that when the time was right I would be ready for any opportunity.  For those looking for that first job, or for those grinding away from home sacrificing so many elements of their life just to advance and reach their goals, use this today as a glimmer of hope that you can achieve whatever it is that you want to, wherever you want to.  Put in the time, work on your craft, and avoid complacency at all costs.

The truth is, however, this experience has been extremely humbling.  I am going to provide a list of people below that I need to thank for assisting me in the process, who have guided me to this point and have helped in some way, without ever asking for anything in return (I apologize if I missed anyone):

Jordan Tobin- American University

Dr. Michael McFarland- Bloomsburg University

Kevin Wood- Springfield College

Matthew Conway- Boston College

Jim Paquette- Loyola

Brad Bates- Boston College

Gene DeFilippo- Turnkey Sports

Tom Mandato- UMBC

Greg Smith- Emory College

Alan Fioravanti- Boston College

Andrew Smith- American University

Josephine Harrington- American University

Kevin Sponzo- Seton Hall

Steve Novak- Boston College

Thorr Bjorn- University of Rhode Island

Vince Nicastro- Big East Conference

Soak that in for a second….yes, people from all over the map, some who I have never even met in person!  All of them are beyond established individuals who have been so willing to talk, mentor, in some cases supervise, and never hesitate to pick up the phone when I have a question (and I have a lot of them!).  That is the beauty of this industry, and it is why this blog is something that I started.  Early on, it’s hard to give back, so by me writing these posts, I hope it shows them that I am trying to pay it forward myself and help anyone I can who wants to get their foot in the door.  Each one of these people have made so many sacrifices in order to pursue a career they were passionate about, understand the process, and have been so willing to help an eager young professional like myself who is just trying to find his way.

Why am I showing you this?  Because the industry, while competitive and popular, is extremely small.  You can’t do it alone, and seeking assistance from people that have had success in the same category is the only way to truly learn, grow, and take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you.  Every single element of my career that I have advanced in is owed to the people that I have listed above, and many more.  When I graduated from UMass, I thought I had the path figured out.  Very quickly, I realized that this wasn’t the case, and if I was going to get started on the right foot, my work ethic, leadership skills, and ability to seek mentorship were all going to have to improve.  The faster you humble yourself and learn that there are people out there who can genuinely help you succeed, the better chance you have of making a real impact, regardless of the industry that you are in.  I look forward to transitioning back home, and starting on this new journey!

 

Guest Post: Views From the Student Section and The Impact of Purpose on Game Day

Background:  This post has been written by Michael Keelen, currently a Junior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick studying Sport Management.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike after he reached out for career advice, and ended up offering the opportunity to write a post that talked about his experiences, how he has gotten involved as a student, and more…I ended up learning more from him than I feel like he learned from me!

Author: Michael Keelen

Sport Management Major: Rutgers University

People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it. This is a concept that may seem simple, but figuring out the concept of why, may be the single handed most important thing any individual or organization may ever do in their entire life. From the time I was young I was always drawn to sports, whether it be watching every game on TV, or going out shooting jump shots outside in the drive way. I always understood that I was drawn to sport but until I grew older I did not really understand why that was. When I came to college I let my passion fuel my decision making and decided to become a Sport Management major.

My passion for sports made joining an organization such as the Riot Squad very easy. The Riot Squad is the official student section of Rutgers Athletics. The group was started 6 years ago by a group of Marketing interns who would go to games and take down stats of the team’s performance. A few years later the interns in charge decided to move away from the statistics concept and make the Riot Squad a traditional student section similar the sections other B1G schools had. When I came in to college the organization had a marketing strategy that ultimately halted the organizations progress.

When I was recruited to join the organization the marketing pitch sounded a lot like this; “We go to all of the Rutgers sporting events, the more you show up the more gear you will get, you get great face time on T.V and a lot of exclusive opportunities, you should join our organization.” From the outside, this does not sound like a bad strategy. The gear itself was quality, the top prize was an awesome Nike back pack, and most of the members that did recruiting seemed to be good people. Despite this, around my sophomore year the organization started to go downhill. Membership rapidly declined, many members would obtain the prize gear and not show up again, and the members who did show up to games, did not create a great atmosphere or move the organization forward in any way.

Naturally, the first thing most of us did was not search for “why” but we tried to refine our what we did and how we did it. We asked if the prize gear was not lucrative enough, or the tailgates not exciting enough and questioned almost everything but the way we recruit. Through many trial and error brainstorming sessions we realized that the reason people joined the organization in the first place was not the gear or the face time or the exclusive opportunities. People joined because they had pride in Rutgers University, they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They wanted to change a culture that so desperately needs to be changed. We figured out that “why” and started to make decisions with the concepts of; “pride, togetherness, and culture” and things changed almost immediately. Despite the lack of winning by our key revenue sports, more people began to join the organization. They became drawn to our new identity and were focused on changing culture and sharing experiences.

Through working with the Riot Squad, I realized the sports are about a lot more than the physical games themselves. Sports bring people together from different walks of life. It brings unity in times of division and can provide an escape for people who need it. Sports links music to memories, and when certain songs come on I can picture myself in the RAC or High Point Solution Stadium with a group of my best friends.

Through these experiences I realized that there was a lot more than sports behind the reason I declared my major. I declared because I believe that sports provide a way that I can change the world. Moving forward, I hope to be the Marketing Director for a Collegiate Athletic Department. In a position such as this I could help impact the fan and specifically the student experience. The student section is often an over looked component for many marketing departments. At the end of the day, a raucous student crowd could help sway potential Heisman trophy winners to go to one school or another. A great crowd could inspire a donor to sign that last check that builds that new facility or could help the University land the next big coach that lifts the national trophy title. Although there are other very important components, the student experience is the pulse of any great college game day atmosphere.

The People Around You

I have stressed this time and time again, and recently it could not be more valuable to my personal and professional mindset.  As you go through life, different stages of friendships and relationships form along the way, whether it’s friends in high school, college, your graduate program, from the neighborhood growing up, and even at work.  What I have found is that who you ultimately spend the most time around end up being the shape and build of your goals, actions, and even character.  With that understanding in mind, it is so important to recognize who it is you are spending time with, the types of relationships you value, and how those people will impact your life.

The scariest part about this is that you can end up changing over time, and not know until it is too late.  The friends you make and stay close with end up forming who you are, and without realizing it, you can become either much “better”, or much “worse” when it comes to your priorities and goals in all aspects of life.  In order to allow these relationships to have an impact on your life in a positive way, you have to allow them to show you what I would consider tough love and make sure that your friends and support system know that you are open to the constructive criticism.  This is a two way street, and if you are not willing to listen to the one’s you trust the most, there can be many missed opportunities to change along the way.

One of my closest friends, Anthony Bulak, is someone who’s priorities, vision, and values line up perfectly with mine.  He is currently the Manager of Premium Partnerships for the NY Jets, and while his direct goal within the sport industry may not be the same as mine, he has a plan, and in many ways his mindset and work ethic has motivated me to be even better both professionally and personally.  We talk regularly about taking risks, working on your personal brand, making the extra effort at work, and most recently, devoting time to your mental and physical health.  I have found it necessary to speak on his behalf today because I feel like it is so important to recognize who the people are around you that can help you become the best version of yourself.  Every close friend you have may not fit the same mold, but if you look closely they can each have an extremely positive impact on you in such different ways.

The People Around You- What I have learned most in recent months is that allowing the right people; whether its friends, family, professors, colleagues, or your boss to motivate you in different ways is the key to one’s overall success.  It is very rare that someone who is dedicated, yet close minded when it comes to seeking advice and allowing others to help recharge your desire to succeed is able to “make it” on their own.  As you hit points in your life where you may feel yourself getting lazy at home, at the gym, at work, or anything in between, allow some time to sit back and reflect to see if the people that you are spending the most time with are truly helping you break that routine.  The underlying theme here- taken from a motivational speaker named Jim Rohn, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Don’t just reflect on your own personal actions, reflect on the one’s of the people around you as well.

Early Tasks

This post is sparked by my brother’s recent internship opportunity, and his first taste of the reality that exists when trying to get your foot in the door and start your career.  The industry Jake is going into has nothing to do with mine.  He is looking towards a job in finance and/or accounting in the general business world, and as a sophomore in college the reality of what’s ahead can sometimes be quite tough to see.  What I have found most fascinating with talking him through this process and how to get started is the challenge that it posed for myself.  Even though he isn’t working in college athletics and doesn’t have the same passion as me, is there a way I can help him take the necessary steps to achieve his long term goal and get his foot in the door the right way?

The interesting part is that it is the exact, same, process.  Because I couldn’t relate to what the day to day responsibilities might look like, or the connections that he had to make, I had to find ways to explain to him what to expect by translating over my own personal experiences.  After two days at his internship, I could hear in his voice that he wasn’t sure if he was going to fully learn everything he had anticipated, and that is perfectly normal. What began to click is that it is the same across every industry, and when you are trying to build a network at the very beginning and learn through experience, the mentality is the same regardless of your focus.

Yes, he spends most of his days making calls and doing things that are not necessarily what he may have envisioned, but that is the whole point.  Early on in your career, those are what I would consider “tests”.  Your superiors are throwing minute tasks at you, and are watching closely at how you respond.  Are you early every day?  Do you ask the right questions?  Do you take a long lunch break?  Have you made the same mistake twice?  Are you dressed appropriately?  How do you carry yourself in meetings?  Are you genuinely interested?

These are the things that I found I could preach to my brother to help him get through his experience, and it has really started to show.  It isn’t about the literal phone calls he’s making, or the papers he may be filing.  It’s about being the hardest worker in the room.  It’s about dominating those small tasks that are given to you.  It’s about learning from the people around you, going outside of your comfort zone, and soaking in the experience and environment that you are planning to engulf yourself in for years to come.

Early Tasks-  It is the equivalent of walking into a Facilities and Operations Internship and expecting to meet with top dollar donors on day one.  It does not work that way.  Every career, industry, and path that leads to success has a process.  The important thing to remember early on is that as soon as you enter the work force, impressions are made, good or bad, and they can last a life time.  As exciting as this can be for building a positive network, is as scary as it can be if you rub someone the wrong way.  This is why it’s so important to take these experiences head on and understand that you can only earn trust of your superiors by dominating those small, simple tasks that are given to you.  Believe it or not, a smile while doing it can go a long way as well.  Be someone that people want to work with, and as you move up the ladder of success, remember these small tasks and values you’ve taken on over the years.  The best at what they do, in my opinion, carry the same mentality when they are on the bottom step of the ladder that they do when they are on the top.

 

Reflect and Grow

Over the last month or so, I have taken some time each day to sit back and re-assess different aspects of my life.  Whether that be work, socially, health, or family, it is important that you take time every once in a while, depending on your schedule, to reevaluate certain areas that allow for you to grow.  For me, the biggest change came at work, and as I tried to understand why, it began to click.  As I have well documented, before taking this role at American University, I had spent the previous two years as a GA, and a full time Intern, both lasting one year each.  With that being said, in each instance, as the term came to an end, I was not only focusing on my job, but finding the next one as well.  Naturally, this allowed for me to remain aggressive in my daily approach, because I had floating over my head the potential of being jobless at the end of each term.  Now that I am in month 9 of my first full time job at American, I am waiting for that indirect “push” that had forced me to refresh my skill set and build my network, but its not there…

Thankfully, I had set aside time at home to find out what that missing link was, and it has kept me from getting complacent.  For the first time in my career, I will be entering an off-season at the same place I was at the year before, with a year under my belt and the ability to make an impact in the department entering year 2.  I recognize now that this is new for me.  A new challenge and experience I have yet to encounter, and something that I am going to approach with an open-mind and that same work ethic that drove me when I was wrapping up those final months of my internships.

Reflect and Grow- Complacency can become your worst enemy.  Everyone, at some point in their life, hits a wall, and to be honest, that’s okay.  It is human nature to become content at times.  It may happen once, or it may happen several times.  The ones that take time to reflect on where they are at both personally and professionally are the ones who have an easier time recognizing their actions, and can then hold themselves accountable. It is so important to set new goals, constantly refine your craft, and in the end take some time down the road to make sure that you are following the path you had originally set out. My goal for writing this was to hopefully provide a spark for those who decide to read. Take a second when you get home tonight.  At work, at home, at the gym, in your relationship, are you falling behind, are you content, and are you willing to accept the reality and make the necessary changes?  Its up to you…Where can you improve?

 

 

The Recruiting Process

Over the last 3 or 4 months, I observed what we call the “recruiting process” for a high school student-athlete as they look to play sports at the next level.  In terms of my position now at American University, I don’t have any involvement when it comes to working with prospective student athletes because my responsibilities do not relate to that aspect of the department.  That didn’t, however, stop me from using my brother, Emil, and his process as a teachable moment not only for myself, but for him and those involved in that challenging, and sometimes rewarding process.

After observing and doing my best to share my experience in dealing with college coaches, and what they might look for, I had some very valuable takeaways now that this process for my brother is over.  He committed this past weekend to the University of Rhode Island to further his academic and football career, and after reflecting on the process, here are the three key components that I took from it.

  1. Negotiating Skills
  2. Interview Process
  3. Relationship Building

Yes, 17 year old kids who are looking to pursue an athletic career at the college level are developing these traits without even realizing it (good or bad) as they meet and speak with these coaches.

Negotiating Skills-  Whether people like to admit it or not, the biggest component of this process for most kids is the financial element.   With the expense that college education has risen too, many families and players are going to dictate the schools that they wish to pursue based on the type of financial aid they are receiving.  This especially holds true with someone in the case of my brother, because he was so in between in terms of where he fit athletically.  Being that many of the schools who garnered interest in him were smaller FCS, and larger Division II programs, he wasn’t being thrown any full scholarship offers.  With that being said, he found himself seeking financial packages, and working with coaches to see what would be the best possible situation for him when it comes to cost of attendance.  What a great experience, especially if you fast forward 5 to 6 years from now.  Negotiating a job salary? Pursuing a career in sales?  You, in some ways, started building that skill set before you even got to college.

Interview Process-  Every time you meet with a coach, speak on the phone, or even communicate in writing, you are being interviewed.  The way you treat your parents on visits, how you interact with coaches, players, and potential recruits, all can play a factor in how a coach determines your value within the program.  Again, what a valuable experience.  Countless schools, intimidating coaches and figures, and uncomfortable situations where you need to do a good job of representing who you are.  Fast forward 5 to 6 years when you go on your first real interview, how similar will it be?

Relationship Building- Last but most important, the ability to build relationships.  Aside from your transcripts, your film, and your height and weight, coaches that offer these kids scholarship money have to like them.  They have to trust that you are a fit, and how respectful you are, how you treat the coaches throughout the process, all goes in to building valuable relationships.  Another piece of that comes with the coaches you have built relationships with who you end up telling that you have committed to another school.  Do you thank them?  Do you value their time and end it on a positive note?  Remember, the coaching carousel in college sports is rapidly changing, so chances are that recruiting coordinator you blew off after committing will be your coach in two years. Make sure that you keep your bridges standing, and appreciate the time that these coaches took to consider you as a potential scholarship player for their program.

The Recruiting Process-  So much has been made recently on how stressful and “unfair” this process is for 17 and 18 year old kids who don’t have a clue what’s really going on. However, I urge those who are involved in the process, whether it be a parent, a mentor, or a coach, to take it a step deeper.  These are just 3 of the valuable lessons I think that can come from undergoing this process, even in the end if you decide that playing college sports isn’t for you.  Great lessons to be learned, and believe it or not, you have already made impressions (maybe first, maybe last) on people that can come back around years down the road and impact your professional career.