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The sports industry is dynamic, fast-paced and constantly evolving.
However, a steadily growing number of highly-skilled applicants for job vacancies makes it difficult for graduates to get their foot in the door.
Danielle Gescheit, Manager of Performance Information and Analysis at Tennis Australia, was once one of those graduates, but says, ‘The [sports] industry is also expansive and there’s now a choice of jobs that never previously existed.’
So how can you prepare yourself for a career in the sports industry that may not even exist yet?
Danielle’s advice for up-and-coming sports industry professionals is to throw yourself into as many work experience placements as possible, create networks and don’t discount the advantage of postgraduate study.
When she began her double degree – Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science and Bachelor of Commerce (Sport Management) – at Deakin, it’s unlikely her current role at Tennis Australia even existed.
Yet, 12 years later, the career she’s forged within Australia’s governing body for tennis has flourished.
Despite not fully knowing where her passion for tennis could lead her career back when she was a Year 12 student, her unwavering determination and paired with the degrees she attained has proven invaluable for evolving in her career.
If you play your cards right, and have a can-do attitude, you can pretty much consider an industry placement an early foot in the door.
Danielle is a huge supporter of industry-based learning. She got her foot in the door of Tennis Australia through a six-month student placement, which evolved into a casual position, before being offered a full-time position. This was all before she’d even graduated.
‘As a student, it’s easy to have pre-conceived ideas about what a role looks or feels like which can be altogether different to real life. Workplace experience gives you the chance to say “yes I love it”, but also the chance to cross it off your list if you realise it isn’t the career path for you and move on to the next thing. Either way it’s a positive experience.’
Danielle found her love for working with Tennis Australia during her placement, but you might go through two or three before finding an organisation or field you really enjoy working in. The key is to treat any kind of internship as an extended job interview.
Another significant part of diving into industry placements is discovering the gaps in your skillset – and then developing them.
In the fields of sports science and sports management, Danielle says one of the critical skills she uses is communication. It’s also one she learnt on the job through trial and error.
‘I work with a huge range of stakeholders and the message I have to communicate to a coach, and the way it’s communicated, is often far different to the one I give a physio or an athlete. It’s about being able to communicate the message effectively and correctly to the right person.’
It’s also hugely beneficial to put the skills you’ve already developed through your degree into practice in a real-world setting.
'Workplace experience gives you the chance to say “yes I love it”, but also the chance to cross it off your list if you realise it isn’t the career path for you and move on to the next thing.'
The number of Australians studying and attaining higher education qualifications is at a record high, which means it helps to have a competitive edge over other graduates.
‘There are many industry career options but it’s also very competitive,’ Danielle says. ‘So if you see yourself working in elite sport particularly, then it’s essential to think about postgrad studies.’
Further study can also assist in deepening your knowledge of the industry, and keep you up to date with current and impending changes across the sporting landscape.
Over her nine year career, Danielle says she’s witnessed many shifts, including the integration and importance of player data and analysis, as well as the rise of technology. Crucially, she expects technology – particularly the application of artificial intelligence (AI) – will continue to create shifts across industry.
‘Within three to five years much of manual, tracking work we do will hopefully be automated,’ Danielle says. ‘For example, we now currently need to watch a match and code where the ball and players are for every single stroke to ascertain the stats and that’s very time consuming.
‘The technology is almost there to automate this process which will mean that we will have more time for diving deeper into the data and developing richer insights for coaches.’
One of Danielle’s top tips is to ‘remember that networking plays a huge part’ in making your way into the field. ‘Put yourself out there, and everywhere, so that when something comes up, you’re top of an employer’s mind,’ she advises.
Of course it can be nerve-wracking attending industry events, making the first move to talk to someone and the ever-awkward handshake you offer (after wiping your hand-sweat on your pants). But networking is a skill you can learn, and practice makes perfect.
Danielle recalls her first contact with Tennis Australia was at a sports networking event. She decisively sat beside a Tennis Australia representative and says, ‘I asked lots of questions so she gave me the contact details of her manager.
‘I then reached out to him, we had a meeting and I was offered a student work placement.’
Keep in contact with people you meet throughout your placements too, as they can be useful references in the future.
If you have a real passion for your future industry, and you exhibit that to everyone you meet, you’re sure to make waves.
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