I decided that I wanted to work in Sports Law when I was 17 years old. At 20 I started my career at a top sports law firm in Brazil – where I currently work. Throughout these past eight years of my Sports Law journey, I’ve been able to learn some things that might be useful to people that aspire to work in sports. And since my career has taken place in this past decade, it should be relatable to new aspirants as the sports market is relatively the same.
The first thing I learned was that there are thousands of people seeking an opportunity. I have received countless e-mails and messages in the past years asking for opportunities. Even though I try to help the best way I can, my answer is mostly the same: it is hard to get into the field and the availability of jobs is scarce. My luck was that I realised it at a very young age and managed to conquer a little space.
If you expect cringey self-help advice such as “believe in yourself”, “never give up” or “be your best self”, you can close this article right now. Unfortunately, most people will not succeed. The following tips are my opinion of the reality I am involved in and I will not sugar coat my words.
1. Choose your niche
When I say ‘niche’, it includes two spheres: sport and profession. You have to narrow it down to one – or maybe two – sports. There are dozens of sports in the world and trying to be an expert in several of them will be not only extremely time-consuming but also will make you an average professional in each one of them. As the old saying goes: “the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one”. Once you choose your sport, you will know the path you should follow, what to study, the events to attend, people to meet, etc. In the future, if you make it and get into the business, you might consider the possibility of opening your work to other sports. But, for now, focus on one.
The second sphere is the profession you will choose within this sport. Agent/intermediary, private lawyer for players, in-house lawyer for a club, marketing department of a federation… There are a lot of career options within the chosen sport and knowing which job would fulfil your ambitions is of utmost importance. If you are still in doubt, I know the best search engine in the world for this kind of situation: ask people within the sport you chose!
2. Networking is about helping people
It is no surprise that networking is important in any private profession. When the subject is sport, most people who work in the field know each other – or have at least heard about each other. So, the second step to getting into the business is to network as much as you can. Go to events, congresses, conferences, meetings and seminars. Although knowing that networking is essential, many people struggle to do it – and that is fine.
Now take a pen and write this on your bedroom wall in capital letters: networking is about helping people. Instead of initiating a conversation to show off, kiss ass or get something from the person, try to think how you can help this person or who you can connect them with. Self-centered and egocentric people are easily recognisable. Authenticity without arrogance, and genuine interest in helping others is a much better approach. It is all about empathy. As soon as you understand it, the stronger your relationships within the sector will be.
3. Stand out from the crowd
There are thousands of people wanting the same as you, so what makes you different? Why should somebody choose you? I will not give you an answer for that one; you have to figure it out by yourself.
4. Make mistakes… fast
Michael Jordan once said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.” Most of the questions I got right in Law school I cannot remember the correct answer anymore, but guess which answers I have never forgotten: the ones I got wrong! I have worked in Sports Law for almost six years now and around 90% of the knowledge I absorbed I just learned because I made a lot of mistakes. So be curious, ask questions – even the dumb ones – and make mistakes fast. In the worst-case scenario, you will become a Jordan.
5. Under-promise and over-deliver
Imagine two scenarios: 1) At the beginning of a football season, the head-coach says he is confident that his team will win the championship. However, his team ‘only’ qualifies to the UCL group stage. 2) At the beginning of the season, the same head-coach affirms that his team will fight to end up in the mid-table (outside the UCL zone). However, his team qualifies to the UEL.
In which scenario do you think the fans would be happier? Even though the 1st scenario is better, the club supporters would definitely value more the accomplishment of the head-coach in the 2nd scenario. Why? Because he over-delivered.
This tip applies to any professional environment. Within the sports business, you will necessarily work with clients – being fans, athletes, coaches, agents, investors, clubs or federations. In your position of professional expert, you will be questioned about, for example, the possible outcome of a legal dispute. If you guarantee to the client that he/she will be successful in their claim and end up not being, you will be frowned upon. High expectation is your enemy, so needless to say you should never promise something you can’t guarantee will happen. Hence, whenever confronted by an uncertain situation, under-promise and over-deliver.
I am a believer that if you truly want something in your life, the universe will eventually give you an opportunity to have it. But is up to you to identify it and grab it with your fingers and nails. And trust me, if you are not 100% sure that you want to work in sports, you will give up eventually. There is no space for amateurs in modern sports anymore; employers want the best and they will pick only the best. Are you easily hurt and driven by sporadic motivation? Quit right now. Are you willing to get punched and be rejected several times to get what you want? Then count on me and let’s go.