Career Advice For Students Who Want To Work In Sports: DON’T

Over the years I’ve been asked a lot, “How can I work in the professional sports?

I’ve spoken at universities in both Canada and the United States to undergrads and graduate students alike sharing career advice. But never, ever, have I given advice as straight to the point as what Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, gave at a keynote interview at MIT.

His answer?


He went on to say that the sports industry is the “worst possible business for a college graduate to try to get into.”

Now, here’s one of professional sports most successful people telling eager college graduates to fugetaboutit..! He doesn’t stop there though.

How Badly Do You Really Want It?

Is Cuban altogether wrong? No. His choice of words is just strong. Direct. Honest. That’s all. Instead, I do think, more importantly, there’s a deeper question that needs to be asked of anyone that’s thinking about working in professional sports (or any highly sought out and competitive endeavour): How badly do you want it?

You see, when you have a “Yes!” that’s deeper than someone else’s “No!”, then, and only then, should you pursue that goal.

Lightning Strikes

In basketball, despite the odds, most kids will say that they “want to play in the NBA”. The wake-up call that they’re missing is that they actually have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than they do of playing in the NBA. The odds are stacked against them. Once you acknowledge the harsh reality of it all, then what…? Are you still willing to put in the tireless hours without any guarantees?

Wanting Is Not Enough

Wanting something is not special or unique. Actually, it’s quite average and commonplace. Everyone wants to achieve something lofty. Wanting is just not enough. Some of the best advice I’ve heard dished out was by some friends to their then 3-year old daughter. They’d lovingly croon: “Just because you want it…” And, in rhythm, their daughter would finish the chorus: “…doesn’t mean you’ll get it.” Love that! (Note: Some 20 years later, we that zinger wiht our little guy! 😉)

I think that’s part of Cuban’s point. Everybody wants to work in the sports industry – especially at its highest levels. But, and this is a BIG but… What do you bring to the table? What will you be able to contribute? Whatever it is, it must fill a need within that organization/team/coaching staff.

What’s My Advice?

Listen… I’m no Mark Cuban. Don’t have his wealth. Don’t have his resume. Yet, I’m coming up on 20 years in pro sports. The best advice that I can give, is the same advice I was given: PASSION PERSUADES.

I etched those words in my mind and have never forgotten them. I found them to be a useful mantra when I was fresh out of university. And, since then, I’ve added to it:

Passion persuades. Persistence pays off. And, contribution is key…!

For those of you who still want it, there are no guarantees you’ll get whatever it is you deeply desire. Yet… anything worth having is worth working for.


Here’s some useful insight from Cleaning The Glass on how to get a job in the NBA.

We begin to define ourselves with our thoughts and words. But it’s only through our actions that intention becomes authenticity. And when we achieve the alignment between word and deed, we begin to embody the ‘Big I’: integrity.