There are a lot of students that I have worked with and that read this website that ask me one recurring questions – “My dream is to work for [insert your favorite sports team here]. How do I get a job in professional sports?”
I like your dream! I too had the dream of being the PT/ATC of the professional team in the town I grew up in, Boston. I was also a big fan of baseball, and obviously the Red Sox. I was lucky enough to achieve my dream, here is what I would say to help you:
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca, Roman Philosopher, 5 BC – 65 AD
1. Determine what exactly you would call a “dream job.”. I know when I started college, I really had no idea what my career would be like or what exactly I wanted to focus on. I applied to some colleges as an athletic training major and others as a physical therapy major. I often reflect and think that it is so difficult for a 16-17 year old to make a decision as to what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I had so many classmates drop out or switch majors because they realized that physical therapy was not for them. To be successful, you need to love what you do.
I would recommend you spend some time in your potential field in high school or early in college to see what a day-in-the-life is for people in the field you want to go into. Many people don’t realize how challenging sports medicine is as a profession. You need to be energetic, compassionate, patient, and love to interact with people. People also don’t often realize what a normal work day is like. I work 12-hour days, 7-days a week, for 9 straight months. I am not kidding or exaggerating, check out a baseball schedule, there are no days off. Even on our off-days we have treatments and have to prepare for upcoming games. It is amazing that I have a supportive family. As a physical therapist in a clinic, you are performing a service and your fate is determined by your patients. If they come late, you miss lunch.
2. Associate yourself with the best. My next tip may be one of the most important. You need to seek out the best people in your field and learn, work, and grow with them. With hard work, time, and a lot of effort you will become one of them. That is what I did, I searched out the best sports medicine people in baseball and discovered Dr. Andrews and ASMI in Birmingham, AL. Over the course of almost 8 years, I progressed from a student research position, then did a year long sports medicine fellowship, 5 years later I was the Director of Rehabilitation. I put myself in a position where I was desirable to baseball teams.
This also goes for networking. Unfortunately, it is all about politics and who you know. The more you can network and join associations or attend conferences with people that are in a position that you want to be in one day, the better. Look for mentors, look for friends, and look for opportunities.
3. Work your way up. It is near impossible to reach the level of professional sports without spending time in the trenches. High school and collegiate athletics is a step in the right direction. Internships are very popular in professional sports and essential to getting your foot in the door. Seek out the professional sports medicine association of the sport you are interested in (we are PBATS in baseball, not sure about other sports) and look into doing an internship or volunteering, even if it is just for training camp. Nothing beats experience, so the more specific your experience can be the better.
4. Set yourself apart from your peers. This one is important and difficult. I was lucky and figured out what I wanted to do with my career early on in college. When I was taking my neurological and pediatrics classes, I would spend my book money on buying new orthopedic and sports medicine books and just obtain my neuro and pedi required reading from the library. OK, so this may not be good advice, but it shows and example of how I used my time and energy to set myself apart. I read everything I could on my topic of interest, baseball sports medicine.
The easiest way to set yourself apart from your peers early on is to show an extreme desire to learn and achieve. I really do feel that hard work will beat out intelligence every time when the race is close. As your career advances, try to set yourself apart. How can you do this? Maybe conduct some research, submit manuscripts to journals and newsletters, take charge and organize journal club, work extra hours, take on extra projects, and volunteer your time. Remember, this isn’t going to be easy, if you want a top level job, there will be sacrifices.
5. Be patient. I don’t think there are many new grads working in professional sports, probably wont be any time soon either. Use the above thoughts to make yourself standout from the crowd. Using baseball as an example, you are trying to get a job with only 30 positions in the entire world. For my dream job, there was only one position. I am lucky to say that I obtained my dream job and I am grateful for this. Realize that it will take a little luck and timing, make sure you do everything you can do to be sure you are ready when an opportunity presents itself.
Good luck and best wishes!