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Sport management internships can open the door to a student's future.

By Robert Case, Ph.D., Old Dominion University

During the past thirty years, a number of colleges and universities have developed professional preparation programs in sport management. It has been reported by Comfort (2005) that over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs exist in sport management.

The North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) have established program approval standards to make sure that college and university sport management programs offer the correct courses and teach the necessary field-based competencies to students. The program approval process is rapidly moving toward a full-accreditation status that will require site visits to campuses and rigorous program curricular standards.

Internship experiences have been and will remain a key part of the program approval and accreditation standards (Cuneen & Sidwell, 1994). Many college and university sport management programs view the internship experience as the capstone or culminating experience that links theory gained in the classroom with the practical aspects of the job. NASSM/NASPE standards currently require a 400 hour internship experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The internships are generally taken for regular or pass/fail grading and for academic credit.

Some colleges and universities require an internship or practicum as an early learning experience for the sport management major. Students are provided with opportunities during their sophomore or junior years to gain early job experience with a sport organization. It is felt that this exposure to the real world will allow students to identify and select a job career path early in their college career. Most colleges and universities, however, require a sport management internship experience during the senior year as a culminating experience. It is felt that once all the coursework is completed--the student is ready to enter the real world of employment in order to gain additional field based experience.

What are the Ingredients of A Quality Internship Experience?

Not all internships are the same. In some instances, students receive tremendous learning experiences that will prove to be invaluable when they enter the work force.

Other internships may be less than spectacular. In these settings, students are given menial tasks to complete and find their days occupied with answering the telephone and filing paperwork. In order to avoid the "less spectacular" internship experiences, a number of internship ingredients are being recommended and include the following:

1. Internships are educational in nature and they need to be treated as such. Educational goals and objectives as well as learning outcomes for the internship should be planned, implemented and evaluated on a regular basis.

2. Since internships are educational in nature, they should be taken for college credit and academic grades provided for the experience. Some internships last for one semester and other internships may last for an entire year. One of the keys to a successful internship experience is the quality of the learning and educational experience and not so much the quantity or number of days spent on the internship.

3. A university internship coordinator and an onsite supervisor for the internship should be identified. Clearly stated duties and responsibilities for the university internship coordinator and the onsite supervisor should be put in writing and understood by each individual. Likewise, a comprehensive job description for the intern should be developed prior to the start of the internship experience.

4. A quality internship experience stresses more than just gaining on-the-job training and providing work experience. It also emphasizes the need to develop a solid work ethic, refining the intern's time management skills, developing self-confidence and leadership potential, demonstrating proficient written and oral communication skills, exhibiting a positive work attitude, and learning how to be a team player in the work environment. Networking with other professionals and identifying individuals to serve as future employment references are other important objectives of the internship experience.

5. A legal contract between the college or university and the internship site should be established and put in writing with all the expectations of each party clearly understood and followed. An internship orientation between the internship site and the intern should take place prior to start of the internship. Work related training and explanation of policies and procedures can take place at the orientation.

6. It is recommended that a university internship coordinator assist each student in searching for and identifying internships. A number of internship web sites and directories are available for students to use in the internship search. The internship search should begin nine to twelve months before the student plans to start the internship experience. Although some predetermined internship placements with selected sport teams may be possible, it is recommended that a team approach be used to identify internship sites. In the team approach, the internship coordinator works closely with the future intern in order to identify and locate potential internship sites. The main problem with having just a few sites where interns can be placed is that these sites seldom offer employment opportunities to interns because previous interns have already filled the full-time positions. A nationwide effort to identify internships can be realized by getting the students involved in the internship search process. As a result, interns can be placed throughout the United States. A number of these internships result in the interns being hired for full-time positions after the internship ends.

7. A number of colleges and universities offer internship seminar classes where the internship process is explained, internship contracts and forms are reviewed,and an active search for internships takes place as part of the class requirements. Many colleges and universities have developed their own internship manuals that contain the forms required for the internship (Case, 2007). Internship seminar classes also focus on developing interview skills as well as writing quality cover letters and resumes.

8. Internship site supervisors should develop job descriptions and expectations for the potential intern. These expectations can be discussed with the intern prior to the start of the internship experience or during the orientation period.

9. Effective internship grading techniques include weekly reports, short and long term project planning and evaluation, mid-term and final evaluations by the site supervisor, periodic intern site visits by the college or university internship coordinator, intern reaction papers at the mid-term and final stages of the internship, and a final notebook that includes weekly reports, a journal, evaluations, reaction papers, samples of assignments or work completed on the job, etc.

10. Although some internships are paid a stipend (usually $1,000 per month), many internships are volunteer and unpaid. Many of the best internships are unpaid. Sometimes the internship experience serves as a type of probationary period where the employer takes a look at the intern during the internship phase and then hires the intern to a full-time position if the employer feels that the intern is an excellent match for the organization.

11. Some interns prefer to complete the internship in one department within the organization and other interns prefer to rotate to a new department about every 4 to 5 weeks. Since every internship is a little different, the ground rules for the internship need to be established in advance so that everyone is on the same page. If the intern ends up completing a year long internship, certain changes to the grading and weekly report systems may become necessary.

Finally, if the internship experience is planned and conducted with total commitment and educational quality as a first priority, then the student, the college or university, and the sport organization will benefit immensely from the experience. If the ingredients of a quality internship experience are followed, the internship can be the door to a student's future!


Case, R. (2007). Old Dominion University Sport Management Internship Manual. Norfolk, VA: Colley Avenue Printing.

Comfort, P. G. (2005). Directory of Graduate Programs in Sport Management. Morgantown, WV: FIT Publishers.

Comfort, P.G. (2005). Director of Undergraduate Programs in Sport Management. Morgantown, WV: FIT Publishers.

Cuneen, J. & Sidwell, M.J. (199-1). Sport Management Field Experiences. Morgantown, WV: FIT Publishers.

Dr. Robert Case is the Graduate Program Director and Internship Coordinator for the Sport Management Program at Old Dominion University. Over the past ten years he has helped to place over 500 students into sport management internship settings. A number of students have received full-time positions in the sport industry as a result of the internship experiences. For a free e-mail copy of the ODU sport management internship manual, please send Dr. Case an e-mail request at

By Melissa L. Grim, Ph.D., CHES & Monica Pazmino-Cevallos. Ph.D., Radford University
COPYRIGHT 2007 Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education and Dance
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Case, Robert
Publication:VAHPERD Journal
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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