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Teaching Responsibility and Due Diligence: Preparing Sports Management Students for Roles as a Sport Supervisor

28 Apr, 2015

By: Dr. Bonnie Tiell

Sport Management curriculum prepares students for positions in a service-oriented industry characterized by a workforce comprised of an abundance of seasonal and voluntary labor. Whether specializing in an area of sport business, coaching, health and wellness, or exercise training, sports management students will typically become supervisors fairly early in their career. The question then, becomes this: how adequate are current sports management academic programs for preparing students for a role as a future sport supervisor?

One of the unique characteristics of the four-plus billion dollar sports industry is the rapid upward mobility of employees to positions with greater responsibilities. Often the sports industry is described as being an oversaturated market for entry level workers; however, once someone is able to penetrate the market, opportunities for advancement seemingly arrive quickly.

For example, Dan Kurta, a sports management graduate from Tiffin University in Ohio, began his career in 2012 as a retail warehouse supervisor for the Cleveland Browns. After nine months, he was promoted to a warehouse manager responsible for a staff of ten employees. Less than two years later, Dan was promoted to Assistant General Manager of Retail Operations for Legends Hospitality which services the Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and a host of other professional franchises.

Sitting in a mainstream human resource management course while in college didn’t prepare Dan for everything he currently does on the job including managing a staff that services First Energy Stadium and occasionally side gigs such as the Indianapolis 500 and NCAA Final Four. In addition to his responsibilities for warehouse maintenance, inventory control and managing multiple vendor locations, he is constantly hiring staff, training employees and implementing incentives to develop a team approach for carrying out daily operations.

Many of the 300 plus universities with sports management programs recognize a need to incorporate a mainstream human resource management class as part of curriculum requirements, but a growing trend is to include an applied course such as Sport and Personnel Management, Sport Leadership, or Employee Services Management in Sport. Other derivatives of course titles at the more than 40 institutions offering a similar course include Sport Business and Personnel Management; Labor Relations in Sport; Resource Management in Sport; Supervision in Sports and Recreation; Personnel Training and Development in Sports; and Leadership and Ethics in Sport.

It is these applied human resource courses that better prepare students who expect likely employment in an arena, stadium, gymnasium, front office, marketing agency, fitness center, wellness center, golf club, yacht club, horse park, bowling alley, ice rink, ski resort, weight room, race track, riding trail, campground or track complex.

Accreditation is an integral component of higher education for the purpose of certifying that academic programs are credible and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure alignment with the university/college mission and expected learning outcomes. When sports management degrees exploded in the early eighties, the need for quality control prompted the development of academic associations to monitor and advise institutions on specialized curriculum in the field.

The Commission for Sports Management Accreditation (COSMA) is the entity that is most widely recognized for broadly monitoring sports curriculum. The early rule of thumb was that sports management programs needed to include three academic areas: 1) Foundational Courses (management, accounting, history, etc.), 2) Applied Courses (sport finance, sport business, sport facility management) and 3) Practical Field Experience. These areas have expanded to the following seven domains recommended by COSMA:

1.      Social/Psychological

2.      Management to include a) Sport Management Principles, b) Operations Management/Event and Venue Management, c) Sport Leadership, d) Sport Governance

3.      Sport Ethics

4.      Sport Marketing

5.      Sport Finance, Accounting and Economics to include a) Sport Finance, b) Accounting, c) Sport Economics

6.      Legal Aspects of Sport and

7.      Integrated experiences such as Internships. 

Sports management academic programs are notorious for facilitating experiential learning opportunities (Domain 7). These relatively short term field experiences or internships, however, may only provide short term exposure to elements of supervision. Sports leadership within management (Domain 2) is the closest relative to Human Resources. Ideally, sports management programs should incorporate both a mainstream human resource management course, an applied class such as Sport leadership or Sport supervision  and an integrated experience where students can gain practical supervisory experience.

Justification for including applied courses stems from the diverse nature of the sports industry which doesn’t allow for standard processes and procedures in human resource functions. There are numerous variations of best human resource practices that are specific for the sports industry, but few resources on the market to cover aspects relevant in the field such as the practical side of hiring in the sport industry, strategic human resource planning, orientation and training for mega events, managing a volunteer labor force, disciplining temporary employees, seasonal labor forecasting, negotiating coaching contracts and professional player immigration laws.

Of the few textbooks available relative to sport and human resource courses, several of the most widely used are from publishers in the United Kingdom which feature European English grammar (e.g., behaviour vs behavior). Most textbooks are mirror traditional human resource textbooks written by academics outside of the field of sports administration, are void of the relevant academic body of sport literature and provide basic, theoretical information relating to human resources with a few sport anecdotes.

There is a need to incorporate both theoretical and applied learning in the area of human resources to prepare students expecting to work in sport organizations. Thankfully, a new textbook with a managerial approach to human resourses in sports is on the horizon and will address the need to combine theoretical and applied information for current and future sport supervisors. Hopefully more institutions will follow the trend to incorpoate application courses related to sport and human resources to best prepare students who will inevitably assume responsibilites for managing people in a sport setting.

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