From Sports Internship to Sports Career in 6 Steps

Written by Brian Clapp,

My first internship was a disaster.

I was fearful and timid. I assumed all the other interns were smarter than me and if I dared speak up that someone was going to laugh at my question. I cruised through that internship, just happy to receive the credits and get back to my dorm room unscathed. What a missed opportunity! I could have learned a skill, I could have learned about the company structure, I could have made industry contacts – but all I did was walk away with a long list of "could haves".

Almost twenty years later, I have a new and different perspective. No manager expects any intern to know that much. In fact, it's a pretty cool thing to have an eager intern who asks good questions while making an impact. Here are 6 tips to help you go from Sports Internship to Sports Career:

1: Be observant

You need to think bigger than "just don't mess up". Watch out for who is struggling to keep up and which departments are clearly under-staffed. By listening to the employees in various work groups, you will start to see inefficiencies in the workflow, inefficiencies you may be able to fill.

Windham Vance is currently a Graphics System Developer at ESPN and travels across the country running graphics for ESPN's "College GameDay", but it wasn't always that glamorous.

"I started out at CNN as a Video Journalist and after 3-4 months of getting Leon Harris his morning Sobe I was frustrated and considered quitting," recalls Vance "I overheard the graphics operators complaining about how short-staffed they were during the 2000 elections, so on my off-time I taught myself the Chyron Infinit. That led to a better job at CNN/Sports Illustrated and eventually ESPN - best eavesdropping I've ever done."

2: Work extra hours - quietly

When you work in sports you rarely have a normal nine-to-five schedule. As a News Director, I was always looking for people willing to put in late nights and work weekends or holidays because it's just a fact in this industry. And when you do put in the extra time, please refrain from telling everyone in the building. You want the impression that you make to be sincere, not just an attempt to grab attention.

3: Be proactive vs. passive

Don't ever ask your Intern Coordinator "what else can I do?"

The sports industry is full of self-starters. So after you finish your assigned tasks, take the time to make an impression on someone other than your intern coordinator. If you really want to be a Director someday, go up to the Director and say "Hi, I'm (insert your name). I'm an intern and I have some free time, can I help you?" Big difference between saying "can I help you?" and "what else can I do?"

Trust me, the Director is going to be more apt to engage and teach you something because you provided them value -- your free time. By being proactive, the Director will remember you and that's one more future advocate for you.

4: Ask Quick Questions

To get anything out of an internship, you need to ask questions. But you have to do it right.

Be quick and to the point, and most importantly, listen to the answer! Listening is hands down the most lacking skill amongst interns and new employees (and 90% of husbands). Asking questions shows a thirst for knowledge and desire to be more valuable. If you don't listen or you ramble on and on it turns annoying pretty quickly.

5: Get Personal - but not really

It can be very effective to build a relationship with your intern coordinator and others you work closely with during your internship. But please note that timing is essential in this. You can't just blurt out during a frantic time, "So what do you think about paying college athletes?" The goal is to endear, not agitate.

When the time is right, ask some simple things like:

  • "Do you enjoy running the internship program?" - You'll find out their true career goals
  • "Have you always been a Cowboys fan?" - You'll learn where they are from, who they root for, more about their sports personality
  • "Did you intern here before getting hired?" - They'll know you're looking for the proper path to getting hired

Just don't push your luck! If someone doesn't look comfortable in these types of discussions back away. What you'll find is 80% of people want to share, which means 20% don't -- make sure to notice the difference and keep it strictly business.     

6: Fertilize your new network

All of the aforementioned tips have the same goal -- to build connections through action. Don't let the connections you build dry up after your internship. I advise keeping a record of feedback and tips that you received throughout your internship. Not only is it a good practice to have a resource guide from industry veterans, but envision this powerful follow-up with your intern coordinator:

"Just wanted to say thank you for teaching me so much during my recent internship. When you advised me on the proper way to edit a script, I learned something I can carry forward after I graduate in the spring. I really look forward to talking to you again in the near future."

In one simple email, you've:

  • shown you appreciated the opportunity and your manager's time
  • proven that you paid attention
  • shown respect for their advice
  • told them when you are available for a full-time job

Don't stop at your intern coordinator, you should deliver this style of message to anyone who impacted you during your internship.

After that first batch of emails, continue to provide value to your network. If you follow up by asking "do you know of any jobs for me?" they will tire of you quickly. Try adding to what they already know about you, "I spent the summer learning Final Cut Pro, so if you need any editors I'm available" or provide them with something, "I'm going to be in the area next week, can I buy you lunch?"

Follow these steps and you greatly improve your chances of turning your sports internship into a sports career.

Brian Clapp is a former Writer, Video Editor, Producer and News Director who worked at CNN/Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports Net before founding You can follow SportsTVJobs on twitter and stay up to date with new content on the SportsTVJobs Facebook page.