This week I found myself in discussion with a football coach talking culture within a football club and, as importantly, how fortunate each person who works in the sport for a living ought to feel.
One of the remarks I made to the coach was that when I was in high school – perhaps even in the early stages of University – working full-time in professional football seemed extremely distant. A dream.
I told him that I used to wonder just how people came to be employed in the game, and particularly in my area of media, communication, and marketing. Just how are people given the opportunity that so many clearly crave?
So, I thought it might be a good time to put some ideas on ‘paper’ and share with aspiring sports media professionals my top tips for getting a chance – then making the most of it – with a professional sporting organisation.
Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule book or bible, just my ideas and some things that I found useful in my progression from a dreamer to someone who is lucky enough to wake up each morning and get paid to watch, think about, and work in football.
1. GET YOURSELF TO UNI!
It’s an obvious one, but I think it is so important for people wanting a job in sports media or marketing to get themselves enrolled in University, TAFE, or an equivalent. Passion for and knowledge of your chosen sport is one thing, but having the theoretical underpinnings and general skills in your locker when you go for a gig is another. University is the perfect place to learn skills, fine-tune them, ask for feedback, and explore the topics you enjoy. In my first weeks at University studying Journalism 101 (not the real course name), my tutor recognised that I based all my articles on football (they were undoubtedly cringe worthy!). He asked me if I would be interested in volunteering for Newcastle Jets (see point 2.), and opened the door for me to do so. I can’t say that it will happen for everyone, but the people you meet at University could shape your life more than they may ever know.
2. VOLUNTEER (BUT KNOW WHEN TO STOP).
I think most sports media, communication or marketing students would be surprised to know how willing and open clubs and organisations are when it comes to accepting volunteers and giving young people a go. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to volunteer for Newcastle Jets in 2008, working on matchday media operations and website articles for two seasons. Volunteering with au.fourfourtwo.com as a writer followed. There is a limit as to how much of your time you should give for free, and you need to determine for yourself when you deserve to be remunerated. But certainly volunteering, showing your skills, and learning from people already in the business (people who have most likely had to tread the same path) can be an invaluable experience. I ended up as the best man at my first volunteer “boss’” wedding, so not only can you make some fantastic industry contacts, but some great mates.
3. VOLUNTEER (AGAIN).
Didn’t we just cover this? Kind of – this one is slightly different. Once you land your first gig, I suggest giving your time for bigger organisations again. When I started with Central Coast Mariners, the opportunity came about to work on international matches for Football Federation Australia (FFA). This was a superb opportunity to learn from people more experienced than myself, and like a player, take international experience back to the domestic scene. Some of the people who I gave my time for have become not only good friends, but crucial industry contacts and mentors.
Whatever your game, working or volunteering at the highest level available to you at your career stage ought to be a top priority.
4. BUILD YOUR (SOCIAL) NETWORK.
You’ve been to University, volunteered plenty of hours and landed your first gig – now you need to amplify your network. Some contacts will come about naturally as you delve into your work, but getting to know other people may take more time and effort. I recommend using Twitter as a professional tool to converse with industry contacts and people you respect and want to work with (leave Facebook for your high school friends and University mates). If I had a dollar for every football industry contact I ‘got to know’ on Twitter before I actually met them in person I could buy a Category A ticket to this season’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final. It’s powerful, and an important place for you to present yourself professionally, learn, and share ideas. Consider attending conferences and networking events too, and go out of your way every so often to shout someone you might work with long term or admire a coffee.
5. GO FOR A GIG YOU (PROBABLY) WON’T GET.
I recommend going for a job that’s most likely out of your league (for the time being at least!). I remember going for a job at the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee back in 2013 when, in hindsight, I was underqualified. Of course, rejection felt bad at the time, but thinking about it now I realise why I in fact wasn’t the best fit for the job. Considering why you didn’t get a gig allows you to reflect on what areas you need to improve – much like a player aiming for a transfer from the Hyundai A-League to one of Europe’s top leagues! In the end another opportunity to be involved with the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (albeit in a lesser capacity) arose and I got that chance to work at the tournament. One door closes, another opens.
6. WORK HARD.
There’s no substitute.