The ultimate dream for many sports management students is to get a graduate position doing what they love within the highly competitive sporting industry.
However, with the number of graduates sometimes outstripping formal graduate recruitment programs in the sports industry, it’s not easy to get a foot in the door when you’re starting out.
There are lots of different ways you can give yourself a leg up before you’ve graduated. Volunteering, working part time in an industry role and completing internships while studying are all great ways to gain experience and grow your networks.
There’s also another crucial point of advantage to consider before you even enrol in your degree. Make sure you choose a provider that’s industry focused.
To give yourself the best possible advantage, you want an institution that has strong industry relationships, industry-focused course content and an active careers program.
Candace Appleby completed her Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) at Torrens University Australia in 2020.
Growing up in Adelaide, South Australia, she was a busy junior athlete competing in athletics, swimming, netball, volleyball, horse riding and calisthenics. If there was a sport, she’d play it.
“My family was and is heavily sport-oriented. So you could say I’ve always been passionate about sport,” she explained.
Candace had always been interested in business, so when she finished school it was a natural fit for her to go looking for a course in sports management. She wanted to choose a course that was flexible, industry relevant and supportive of students' learning.
“The primary focus of my course was not sport itself but the behind-the-scenes management required to deliver sporting events, which piqued my interest.
Growing up as a junior athlete and discovering I had a business mind in high school, Torrens University was the clear standout, offering smaller class sizes, a course that was assignment based with no exams, and the ability to form personal relationships with facilitators,” she said.
As part of the Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) at Torrens University, students complete a minimum of 300 hours of industry placement.
In addition, students get access to a personal Success Coach, the Careers Connect platform, and a whole network of strong and active industry relationships.
For her third-year placement, the university helped Candace secure an internship as an assistant to the Marketing Coordinator and CEO of Central District Football Club. This role required her to develop social media marketing plans, create content to improve community engagement, and develop innovative strategies to increase membership.
It was a big role with a lot of responsibility for someone still in their final year, but Candace felt she was ready for it.
“Torrens University provided me with a theoretical foundation that was designed to teach effective management and operation of sports organisations, through teaching business concepts in the context of current events in the sports industry.
As well as this, the university offered opportunities to gain industry insight and experience through partnerships with large sporting organisations. These partnerships enabled me to work with organisations like Adelaide United, Adelaide International Tennis, SANFL and Special Olympics Australia” Candace explained.
The work placements that Candace completed while studying and the industry-focused content of her course helped prepare her to step into the industry.
When her first big graduate opportunity came along she jumped at it.
“When I completed my degree, I was unsure what I wanted to do. I began a Graduate Certificate of Global Project Management at Torrens University to expand my skill set while continuing to work as a swimming instructor.
In 2021, I first discovered the position on offer at SANFL, and I immediately resonated with the role,” she said.
The South Australian National Football League (SANFL) have been long-standing, close industry partners with Torrens University.
A number of sports management graduates from Torrens University have ended up at SANFL over the years, through internships and work placement programs.
When Sean Toohey, Head of Football Operations at SANFL, saw that Candace was applying for the role of SANFL Schools Coordinator, he could immediately see her potential.
“When hiring, first and foremost look for the right person for the role and the organisation. If the person doesn’t align with our values and culture, they won’t be the right fit. From there, I explore the technical attributes of the person relevant to the role, relevant and diverse experience, how they articulate their responses, and I try to visualise them in the role as part of the team.
Candace stood out with her calm, measured approach, as well as the breadth of experience she’d already been able to attain in such a short space of time.
Her communications experience was a real point of difference from other applicants and was something the SANFL Juniors team really needed, given the breadth of stakeholders we are required to communicate with.
It was obvious that Candace is a high achiever academically, but she also takes great pride in her work. That gave us confidence that she would approach her role with SANFL in the same manner.
This is extremely important to the thousands of participants and volunteers who are involved in the competitions that Candace is now delivering as part of the SANFL Juniors team,” Sean explained.
After several rounds of interviews Candace secured the role of Schools Coordinator at the SANFL
She loves the work environment and the role, and she’s thrilled to be able to work in the field she’s always been most passionate about: sport.
“As SANFL Schools Coordinator I'm in charge of the day-to-day management of the schools competition as well as assisting with the management of the SANFL Juniors running communications, such as the newsletter and website, and events.
What I love most about my job is working in a fun welcoming environment with great people, but more specifically assisting in the development of our youth and strengthening communities.
Knowing that I am a part of children having the opportunity to participate in sport and the ability to grow and gain life skills is the best feeling.”
She’s not the only one pleased with this situation; Sean Toohey and the SANFL team are all thrilled to have her on board.
In the short time she’s been with them, she’s already kicking goals and moving their organisation forward.
“Torrens University has clearly done a great job at creating sports business courses that are progressive and highly relevant to working within the industry today.
Graduates like Candace are able to progress into fast paced, high pressure working environments, such as SANFL, with the confidence to prioritise tasks, work well within a team and execute their role to a high standard.
Candace has hit the ground running since starting in January and has already implemented greater efficiencies within the team from a communications perspective. Her work ethic and passion to deliver our competitions to a high standard has been evident from very early on, and we are all excited to see what she can achieve in her time here at the SANFL.
We are thrilled to have her as part of our team, and it is clear that Torrens University played a significant role in her professional development,” said Sean.
Candace is clearly off to a great start, but what does the future have in store for this hard-working go-getter?
“My future is unknown for the moment, but if I had to dream my ultimate career goal would be to become CEO of a major sporting organisation, or work for the International Olympic Committee,” said Candace.
Having come so far already, she’s got a great chance of making it right to the top before too long.
Does she have any words of advice for other sports management graduates that are looking to break into the sports industry?
“For those looking to break into the sports industry my advice would be to utilise the things you know, the experiences you’ve had and identify whether this can lead to new possibilities. Sometimes you don’t realise the wealth of resources you already possess.”