Gator Career Chat: Bracketing Your Future in Sports (event recap and recording)

The sports industry offers opportunities in management, marketing, analytics, journalism, and more. In this workshop, panelists from a variety of sports backgrounds shared their unique journeys and offered valuable advice for those aspiring to turn their passion for sports into a fulfilling career, emphasizing the importance of passion, hard work, and networking. The panelists — including Natasha Sherwood, Executive Director, IEC; Jerry Csaki, Senior Director of Youth, Education, and Leadership, Pro Football Hall of Fame; and Brian Towers, Senior Vice President – Revenue, Sharks Sports and Entertainment — highlighted the opportunities for growth, teamwork, and community partnerships in sports and discussed the potential challenges and pivotal moments in their careers.

Introductions

Jason, career coach for Early Engagement at UF Career Connections Center, introduced the panelists, beginning with Natasha Sherwood. Natasha shared her extensive career background, which included volunteering for the UF football team, interning at the O’Connell Center, and later serving as an athletic director and coach at a high school. She also shared her career shift to the event management industry and credited her career path to connections from her time at the University of Florida. Jerry Csaki, the senior director of youth education and leadership at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared his non-traditional background and extensive experience in the sports industry. He also outlined the Hall of Fame’s educational programs and community relations work. Brian Towers with the San Jose Sharks shared his extensive background in professional sports, including his current role in revenue for Sharks Sports and Entertainment. He also discussed his early career as an inside sales representative and his varied internship experiences.

Sports Industry Experiences and Growth

Jason then asked the group to share their initial sparks of interest in working in athletics, with Natasha sharing her childhood experiences growing up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and her desire to play football as a child. Jerry highlighted the opportunities for growth and teamwork in sports and shared how his interest in sports led him to a career at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he has worked for over 20 years. Natasha discussed her time at UF and her subsequent role at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where she contributed to community relations and events. Both emphasized the importance of their work in creating a positive fan experience and fostering community partnerships.

Breaking Into Sports Industry: Advice and Opportunities

Natasha, Jerry, and Brian discussed their experiences in the sports industry and their advice for students seeking to break in. Natasha emphasized the importance of being proactive, volunteering, and showing a willingness to learn and work in any capacity. Jerry stressed the values of sports and the potential to learn valuable life lessons from them, highlighting the importance of communication and teamwork. Brian focused on the revenue-generating potential of sports and the opportunities for innovation and experimentation in the industry.

Maximizing Opportunities and Building Relationships

Jerry emphasized the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity, including networking and job postings on platforms like Teamwork Online. Brian added that while degrees and experience are important, building relationships and demonstrating initiative through actions like informational interviews and volunteering can set a candidate apart. Natasha highlighted the value of volunteering at local sporting events and suggested reaching out to potential mentors. The panel also discussed the need for quick and grammatically correct responses to emails, reflecting a professional demeanor.

Interview Skills and Industry Success

Natasha stressed the importance of showing passion for the industry and being informed about the company during interviews. Jerry emphasized the need for effective communication skills and the ability to adapt to various situations and audiences. Brian highlighted the significance of understanding the job requirements, demonstrating a positive attitude, and showcasing relevant skills and experiences. The panelists also agreed on the value of hard work and continuous effort for success in the industry. Student questions were then invited for the closing segment of the meeting.

Natasha, Jerry, and Brian’s Career Pros, Cons, and Learning Opportunities

Natasha shared her experiences of dreading certain aspects of her past jobs, such as managing large crowds and dealing with difficult personalities, but looking back, she viewed these situations as valuable learning opportunities. Jerry also expressed his love for his current role and his eagerness to tackle new challenges, despite minor frustrations. Brian, however, indicated that he had experienced dreadful moments in his career, particularly during his first management role. This included addressing a body odor issue in his team, and he emphasized the importance of leadership and feedback. Jason then asked about career pivots for people further in their careers, with Natasha offering advice based on her own upcoming retirement. Natasha encouraged passion, work ethic, and showing one’s story through LinkedIn and informational interviews. Jerry introduced a free program offered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Before the Snap,” where students can connect with industry professionals through live interviews on YouTube.

By David Adams
David Adams Assistant Director for Career Pathways – Business, Public Service, and Tourism