This email exchange is lightly edited. To read more advice, check out the advice section.
Do you think internships in sports analytics are important? If so, what would you recommend on how one would go about trying to find more information about possible internships?
There are pros and cons to internships. On the one hand, they can be a really great way to get your foot in the door, to gain experience, and to gain contacts in the field. On the other hand, they are really hard to get and you have to be aware that they often don’t lead anywhere, since there are so many people trying to get jobs in sports and so few jobs available. (They also can be difficult to make work financially given how much they might pay and what your situation is.)
The good news is that we live in a world now where you don’t have to just hope to be one of the lucky ones who gets the internship—you can take the initiative now. My biggest piece of advice, then, is what I wrote about in “How to Get a Job in the NBA”, as point #2 at the end: Do the job before you have the job.
Act like you have the job you want, imagine what the work would be like — and then do it. Put together unique scouting edits on D-League players. Build advanced spreadsheets or websites with salary cap info and helpful ways to visualize details of contracts. Analyze data to help answer a question the coaching staff might have, like the value of a 2-for-1.
Taking initiative like this does a few things. First, it shows them clearly what you can do, because you’ve already done it. Second, it demonstrates an ability to be a self-starter. Third, it teaches you — you are gaining experience in your desired field before you even step through the door. Lastly, it gives you the opportunity to get feedback and to learn from others: if what you’ve done isn’t good enough for teams to immediately be interested, you can find out why.
One benefit of the era we live in is that good work spreads faster than ever. If you do something that’s truly impressive and get it in front of the right people on social media, it can organically end up on the screens of numerous NBA employees in a short period of time. And then they will reach out to you, instead of the other way around. (Just make sure you have your contact info posted clearly!)”
The biggest mistake I see people make is to spend their time doing everything they can to try to chase down an internship instead of spending that same time learning the skills that would make them better in the job. And if they don’t get the internship, they figure their path to that career is blocked and they give up.
You don’t have to wait for an internship to start doing the work and learning things. You can gain a lot of the benefits of an internship by doing the work before you even get an internship, looking for feedback, and eventually when you keep improving and get your work to be good enough, having demonstrable work you can show potential employers.
That’s no guarantee of success. Far from it—there still are many fewer jobs in the sports world than there are people who want them. But it definitely increases your odds. And in the worst case scenario, you’ll have learned a lot of skills that are quite valuable in industries outside of sports.