Thank you for helping grow this club in its first two years of existence. I still remember our first ever callout and joking with the other officers – “what if nobody even shows up?” It was as if we were trying nervously to suggest it out of existence. Of course, people showed and stayed through the growing pains and the infant stages of Sports Analytics at Purdue. I’m both nervous and excited to watch the club grow as an alumnus.
This letter, though, is specifically directed toward those who want to work in sports, and even more so toward those who want to work in sports analytics. Our club welcomes those for whom sports analytics is a passing interest, or a hobby, but I want to address the ones who dream of breaking into the sports industry. I cannot pretend to be an expert, but I want to reach out to you all while I’m still a student, just a few weeks ahead of where you are now. Just this semester, even, I was applying to countless positions on TeamworkOnline, grateful to even hear back about a post-graduate internship position. Now, I’m all set to become the newest full-time member of the Houston Astros analytics team.
As I look back to how I got to this incredible opportunity, I want to share with you what I did right and what I did wrong, in the hopes that it will help you reach your goals as well.
Firstly, apply to everything. Check TeamworkOnline and WorkInSports frequently. If there’s a position you’re interested in, apply. I don’t care if you’re only a freshman, and I don’t care if you don’t meet every qualification listed. They’re going to take the best candidate, and you better believe other people are applying who don’t meet every qualification. Why not you?
That being said, also prepare yourself for rejection, or even worse (but unfortunately more common), no response at all. The sports industry is a very desirable and thus competitive one. These companies are receiving hundreds of applications for each job posting, so your odds of making the cut are slim, and it’s difficult for them to get back to everyone. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it discourage you. Keep applying. Last summer, I applied for a part-time, remote internship position with an NBA team, and when I was denied, I was a lot more disappointed than I expected to be. As much as I didn’t want to feel that way again, I had to keep applying, and not even a year later, I’m working with one of the best analytics teams in all of sports. Patience is hard, but key.
With the hundreds of applicants I mentioned before, it’s important to make yourself stand out. Of course, everyone says that. How do you do it? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you a few things:
- Every company I ever interviewed with, and everyone who has reviewed my resume, has asked me about Sports Analytics at Purdue. I’m biased, but participate in this club. Assume a leadership position, if you can. Make it better than how I’m leaving it.
- Reach out to local high school and college coaches and ask if they need help. A lot of teams even at lower levels have access to large amounts of data and have no idea what to do with it. It could be as simple as keeping statistics for games or organizing data in Excel. It’s a start. Revel in the experience. The hardest part of sports is getting your foot in the door, and at the very least, you can network with people who may have good connections (remember that it’s all about who you know).
- Do independent projects. This is my biggest regret of the last few years. Have a question about sports? Do the analysis. Answer it. Publish it on a blog (WordPress accounts are free)! I’ve heard our members talk about their ideas, and they are brilliantly creative and interesting and way beyond what I could come up with. I cannot emphasize this enough. I’ve been told that if I can’t find a job in sports right away, I should create a blog and do independent analysis until someone notices me. For baseball fans, check out fangraphs.com, and you’ll see some good examples.
- Take classes. There are sports analytics courses out there. After SAP, the most asked-about thing on my resume was the online football analytics course I took through Sports Management Worldwide, and there’s way more options, too. If you can’t spend the money, at least watch YouTube videos. Maybe try to apply some of those concepts to sports that get less attention – a lot of women’s sports, Olympic sports, high school/college sports, etc. do not get the attention the others do, and there’s a significant lack of data and analysis. There are a lot of parallels between the sports, so you can probably transition those concepts to these pretty easily, and maybe do something nobody’s ever done before. Even if someone has done it, do it anyway.
Another piece of advice I have to give: prepare yourself for a low salary, or even spending money, at the beginning of your career. I complained once to a few coaches about a low-paying internship position with an NFL team; they looked at each other shocked that they were even offering money at all. Both of them had to take unpaid internships to get where they were (and considering they were division 1 coaches, I would say they are at a pretty successful place now)! As I mentioned above, you may have to cough up some dough to make yourself stand out. My SMWW class cost me $1500 – ouch, and I’ve spent a ton on attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference each year. For me, and I’m sure many of you can say the same, it is very difficult to wrap my head around these salaries when I know that with my degrees, I can go make a lot more in other industries. If you’re committed, though, it won’t matter. Remember it’s just the starting point, and there will be opportunity for growth.
I’m biased again with this point, but if you’re interested in analytics, learn computer science. Learn how to code. Almost all job postings are going to ask you to be familiar with Excel and other Microsoft products, SQL, CRM, Python, etc. (and if they don’t, then it could be a good way to make yourself stand out!) I had someone tell me at Sloan that “it’s not even sports analytics anymore – it’s sports machine learning.” If you don’t know what machine learning is, that’s okay. It’s a branch of computer science fused with statistics and it is an integral part of predictive modeling nowadays. Purdue obviously has classes, but there are also free online courses that are probably more relaxed.
When I think back to when I started this journey five years ago, these are the things I wish I would have known right away, and these are the things to which I accredit my success in landing the job I have now. I look across the country at the schools with analytics departments in their athletics, the schools doing consulting for local teams, the schools putting on their own conferences, and I want that for Purdue. I’m competitive, and I want for us to be the industry standard in collegiate sports analytics, and I want the industry to be teeming with Purdue graduates one day. I hope one day that sports analytics courses are offered and we have a program for students to work within the athletics departments. I wish this could have existed during my time at Purdue, but I trust that we are headed in the right direction and that you all will take over adequately and continue working toward this despite the inevitable resistance that will be met.
Please feel free to reach out if you ever have questions. I am more than happy to talk. Boiler Up!