8 tips for growing your career in sports

by darren arnold - Sr. Director, Ticketing, at the Hamilton Bulldogs Hockey Club | June 13, 2019

In writing this piece, I had to think back to when I first entered this industry back in 2004 and how much it’s changed.  My hope is that while I suspect individuals looking to break in will find this valuable that my veteran peers will also see some parallels in their careers as well.  I appreciate the opportunity to share some insight in what I am calling my eight tips for growing your career in sports, hope you enjoy!

1.            Tick tock.

You can’t get time back.  Time is the most limited commodity we have because we simply can’t acquire more of it.  So, I challenge you to understand the value of it. I have a deep belief that these parallel with both your personal and professional desires in life. Don't waste your time in roles or pursuits that you aren't passionate about or roles that you don't feel valued or challenged in.  To be clear, this doesn't mean you should take a comfortable easy path, but rather embrace being challenged with the time you have as true learning comes from being outside your comfort zone. In addition, begin to understand how others value their time as this exercise will teach you to be more concise and understanding of how precious time truly is.

2.            Learn to communicate.

An observation I’ve noticed in recent years is that recent graduates struggle with the written word and even more so in sharing their thoughts in an eloquent manner. Like with anything, it takes practice. It’s easy to fire off an email or text. Do what’s hard. Pick up the phone and ask questions and utilize active listening skills and have an engaging conversation. This is how relationships are built. If you are going to resort to email, be mindful of the readers time and to be blunt... get to the point. Technology has made communication so much easier and faster and increased our connectivity but at the expense of building interpersonal skills. These soft skills are critical, especially for those of you starting a career in sales.

3.            Find mentors.

I’ve been fortunate to have some great teachers in my career.  Diversity has been key for me as I’ve found I can draw upon different skillsets from a variety of mentors who are extremely talented in areas that I wish to grow in.  Don’t take these relationships for granted either and as you develop into the leader you wish to be. Take the wisdom instilled in you and pass that on. The greatest gift you can provide your mentors is passing on their education to others.

4.            Exercise your brain.

There is ample opportunity in this industry to learn and grow. Information is made available to us at lightning quick speeds and it can be daunting to think about where to start. The best advice I can say is find something that interests you and keep going back for more. Bob has done a great job in putting together theClubhouse as an example of this and there are countless others. Being in sales, I’ve found value in Jeffery Gitomer’s sales insights, I read articles on LinkedIn and find books on leadership that are all incredibly valuable to me. I’ve also sought out books that peers are reading that have brought about positive change for them.  Even after graduating you should have a thirst for knowledge that continues throughout your career, and have a desire to apply what you learn to your day-to-day life.

5.            You Inc.

You are a brand.  Just as you see brands in the world in the constant stream of imagery and logos… this is the exact same way that the rest of the world sees you. Understand that your brand has value and is in a direct relationship with how your peers see you – and more importantly your potential.  Your decisions and actions are all representative of your brand. This is something that is hard to fathom from a classroom as a junior in college but it’s an important lesson to learn that you are forming your brand identity even as you read this.

6.            Meet your neighbors.

The sports industry is an incredibly diverse and expansive universe but one that is equally open to thought sharing and networking.  Common bonds can be formed instantly through the power of sport. I view this as an extension of building relationships or to a lesser extent - networking. I'd challenge those looking to develop their careers to meet everyone you can and build and nurture those relationships. Author Stephen R. Covey coined the phrase "Emotional Bank Accounts" something that I believe deeply in. Consider the deposits and withdrawals you make in the relationships you form with your industry peers, and how this will affect your personal brand value. Your reputation, likeability, staying true to your commitments and placing value on honesty and integrity will aid you in building trust with valued colleagues.

7.            Have a plan…kinda.

I say “kinda” because while I have no doubt there are a number of individuals reading this who are truly not sure what they want to do. And that’s ok (and more common than ever before) in our industry. I often hear the desires to be the GM of your hometown team, a player agent or the most common blanket role – “I want to work in sales and marketing.”  For the latter, I’d advise you to learn the difference between the two and then how they work together in our industry and you’ll immediately be ahead of 95% of the recent graduates I speak to.  I myself wanted to be in PR in sport upon graduating.  I quickly learned that the sales department for the Toronto Blue Jays had a staff of 50+…the PR department had a staff of 3.  Let’s just say I took advantage of the numbers game and I’ve never looked back. Sales and sales leadership was never a part of my plan, but I can’t imagine a life without it now.

8.            Stay humble and give back

This industry has afforded me many things that I do not take for granted.  I come from a blue-collar family where each of my parents worked for competing steel firms in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for over 30 years.  They worked at jobs with challenging hours and work environments and often worked during uncertain times in their industry, so that I could pursue a career I was passionate about.  I don’t and never will take this lightly. I try to give back as often as I can. This is a common trend in our industry and one that makes me proud to be a part of it.  It’s important to me not to forget my roots and where I came from and I’m lucky to have parents who instilled some invaluable teaching and giving back will be always be paramount to me – just as it was for them.  As you navigate your career, I would challenge you to employ the same thinking in what you do each day.

Darren

Darren Arnold is the Senior Director of Ticketing at the Hamilton Bulldogs Hockey Club in Ontario, Canada. He's worked in sports for nearly 20 years and has prior experience with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Aspire Group, and the American Hockey League (AHL). He's a student of best practices, has a great pedigree in sports and is always looking to give back. You can learn more about Darren by visiting his LinkedIN profile here.