Can Passion Propel You to a Career in Sports?

Is Passion Enough?

Crowd at Sonoma State Graduation listening to Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun.

One time that young people think about pursuing their "passion" is near graduation.  Many - including commencement speakers - offer up the advice that happiness can be found bu choosing a career one is passionate about.

And by the magic of YouTube, you can hear many of these commence speeches, including a favorite of mine (at least from an entertainment standpoint) delivered by Conan O'Brien at Dartmouth.

A few years ago at a graduation ceremony, I listened intently to Adam Braun, founder of the non-profit Pencils of Promise and author of the New York Times best seller The Promise of a Pencil.  His speech was impactful and raised many nuanced points.

But one line Mr. Braun delivered resonated with me. "Don't pursue passion.  It won't be enough."

And I suppose the reason it stood out is that I discuss this point all the time with students, as it relates to sports careers.

So many young people are passionate about sports.  They played sports growing up.  They follow sports teams as part of the daily (or weekly, in the case of the NFL) fabric of their lives.  They are intrigued by the possibility that their passion for sports could become a career and allow them to earn a living.

And it is easy to see why this seemingly logical sequence lands so many young people yearning for that internship or entry level job in the sports industry.

But, of course, this narrative has a some flaws.

First, many will think their passion is what makes them ideal candidate or differentiates them from other candidates.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, according to veteran hiring managers.  They privately (and occasionally publicly) bemoan job candidates who trumpet passion as a calling card.


Another way passion is misunderstood is causality.  Dallas Maverick's owner (and Shark Tank star) Mark Cuban often mentions this point and has written about it on his blog.  The quick summary of his view is that people are passionate about what they are good at.  And you may become passionate about a field or industry you don't know much about early in your career.  But as you find your niche you'll grow your skills and passion will follow.

Early on people have limited experience so they want to leverage their passion for sports as a career alternative.  But for many this conclusion is simply a function of their limited knowledge about potential career options.

But if you are passionate about sports and choose to pursue such a position, can it still be a plus in interviews?  Yes, if utilized in the right way following these tips:

  1. Don't lead with how passionate you are about the team, league or company.  If questioned directly at the end of the interview about whether you are a "fan", that is the appropriate time to reveal that element of your passion.
  2. If you have to TELL an interviewer that you are passionate about a team or a job or a product you are doing it all wrong.  It should be obvious based on your research and preparation that you are passionate.
  1. The best way to differentiate with passion is being passionate about sports business, not passionate about just being a fan of the team.  Teams, leagues and companies are not in the business of hiring fans.  They are looking for knowledgeable professionals who can add value to their firms.

So to answer the question posed in the subtitle of this piece, "Is Passion Enough?".  Nope.

As, Mr Braun pointed out, it won't be enough.

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