Interview with A.J. Gauthier
John Cody, a writer and contributor to SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed his hometown friend, A.J. Gauthier, who graduated from Flagler University in St. Augustine, FL in 2012 with a degree in Sports Management. A.J. discusses organizing youth baseball tournaments during High School, his current trajectory in the world of sports, and his international experience managing a youth sports camp in China. He also touches on the differences between working for a private company and a town municipality and some different avenues one could take to advance their career in sports.
About A.J. Gauthier
A.J. is originally from Freetown, Massachusetts and has worked in sports management at various organizations in Boston, Plymouth County, and in Shanghai, China. He has a varied experience of working with private youth organizations, town municipalities, and has managed, led, and organized various programs and organizations for the last eight years. During this time, he has developed and sharpened his skills in organizational management, logistics, and the ability to plan and execute large scale events and programs. Currently, A.J. is managing the youth recreation programs in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. A.J. is an avid athlete himself and plays a lot of golf and basketball in his free time.
Note: small edits have been made for clarity.
John: What first got you into sports management?
AJ: To be honest, I got started on this path when I was organizing local youth baseball tournaments. That was a lot fun, running the tournaments. I did umpiring, so you get to see how it was like on a mini scale, how a bigger facility works
John: Yeah, because you were organizing the tournaments.
AJ: Yeah, so you had to know all the rules, you talk to the coaches, you set everything up. Like how you could do batting practice before the game. You just had to know everything. Like got to do the stars and you kind of saw how everyone enjoyed doing it.
John: Wait, how old were you when you first started organizing this?
AJ: Well my dad started doing it and then I kind of did it after him, so like the last two years, when I was 20 and 21. Honestly it was me and one other person. [People coming to the tournaments] didn’t talk to any of the coaches, they just talked to us. Because the older coaches had known us for years so they kind of knew we ran everything, which was good.
John: Yeah, so when you were looking at schools and other options for after high school, was your mindset towards sports management or were you considering different things?
AJ: Well, also I took the community college route for two years but then after that it was more like I kind of did look up schools and did visit them and decided to do sports management. I did a combination of the program (they had a good program) and I liked the location.
John: Yeah, it’s not bad being down in Florida.
AJ: Yeah so honestly when I went to Flagler, I was like, “I’m going to go here if I get in.” Actually, I had already gotten in so I was like, “yeah”.
John: That visit made a decision for you.
AJ: Yeah I don’t know how it was for you but honestly the visit was pretty sick.
John: Yeah I’m sure.
John: So do you think after graduating, has having a sports management degree opened up doors for you that otherwise would have been closed? How has having that degree in sports management given you opportunity or changed your world after graduation? Has having a degree specific to this field opened up any doors for you?
AJ: I feel like the one regret I have related to sports management was not taking the internship process more seriously. Some kids who started the process earlier got internships geared more towards their interests.
John: So what was the internship process like? Did Flagler have some program that all the students needed to go through or what did that look like?
AJ: So our last semester was just an internship. So no school work, your last 48 credits were based on your supervisor grading you and sending it into the school.
I did mine at Bryant University but there was one guy that I knew, he still works for the [Tampa Bay] Rays, that I’m still friendly with. He started super early, and in addition, I didn’t take networking so seriously. They would put on networking events. I went to a couple. Honestly I blew them off, but looking back I probably should have gone to more.
John: What do you mean by he started early? He was looking and applying for places early?
AJ: I started the semester before and he started the year before.
John: Got it, ok.
AJ: Honestly that’s the biggest advice I have for sports management that you need an internship for, start looking a year before, your Junior year before. So far ahead.
(Check out our internship guide for more helpful information on how to land an internship)
John: And what were you doing at Bryant as part of that internship?
AJ: I ran the intramural and club sports and I ran basketball events, collected money, did some camera work. Mostly dealing with the intramurals mainly from day to day, setting up schedules, making sure everyone showed up that was supposed to ref.
John: Got it, can you talk about your past experience? So you have a degree from Flagler University in Florida, you did your internship at Bryant University in Rhode Island and then could you give an overview of what you have done since then?
AJ: So then I went to Viking Sports in Brookline, MA. I was able to do more coaching, T-ball, basketball, flag football and soccer. Then I was a summer camp director. We took about two hundred kids a week, aged about six to twelve and also CIT’s (Counselors in Training) aged thirteen to fourteen as workers. We had about thirty employees and I was in charge of those guys. Honestly summer camp was so much fun, you see the same kids over and over. Because you asked what was rewarding before, I think that was the most rewarding part, seeing the same kids over and over, you see them get better, as they get older and as the program goes on. And also they come back every year and they say, “What’s up coach AJ?” And you say, “What’s up Dawson?” Or whatever their name is. But they remember you and it’s cool when you remember them. You know they came back partly because their parents made them come back and partly because they wanted to come back.
John: Yeah, you talk about seeing kids improving, whether it’s hand-eye coordination or just physically getting better at sports but do you see any of the soft skills improving, like kids working better together, or team work, you know, what sort of benefits do you see from these team sports?
AJ: Some of them obviously do get better as they get older with hand-eye and stuff like that, but it’s funny because there is always usually one kid in the age group who, when they have a team says, “No we should do it this way.” Who takes charge. He’s not the best kid, but he’s smart and says “We should do it this way, like we should all spread out.” His understanding of the game is ahead of his skills. Sometimes it’s better that way because your hand-eye and ability are going to grow but some people’s cognitive ability doesn’t.
John: Right, that’s individual but what about the dynamics of kids working together. Do you see any changes as they get older there as they get more exposure to each other as the summer goes on?
AJ: I think it’s funny because as the kids get older they know their role better in a team atmosphere. As they’re younger, every kid wants to get the ball. And every kid as they get older, some realize they are better at goalie, “I shouldn’t be out there, this is what my role should be.” This will probably be the best for their team. And they realize that as they get older, and I think it’s funny to see that difference too where they’ll make the sacrifice for the betterment of everybody because that’s where they realize they’re best at.
John: I gotcha, yeah. I know from experience I belong on defense.
AJ: That’s what I’m saying, when you’re six or seven, you’re like, “I’m dope, I’m going to be out here.” But when you’re twelve or thirteen you’re like “I should be back here.” You kind of know your role better.
John: Some self awareness there, that’s cool. And how long were you at Viking for?
AJ: Four years.
John: Four years, ok. And then what did you do after that?
AJ: I went to work for a company called UOutlook in Shanghai, China.
John: Ok, that’s a leap.
AJ: Yeah, some guy hooked me up with it, I don’t know who he is but… (referring to John!)
John: What made you make that jump from somewhere that’s less than an hour from your hometown to, the other side of the world?
AJ: I had been with that company for four years so it was time to move on, something different, something new, something exciting. Originally I went over there to work for the summer camp and be the sports coach for the summer camp, teach basketball and soccer and it turned out to be a little longer than three months.
John: Yeah how long was it in total?
AJ: Just over a year and a half.
John: Ok nice, any good stories or anecdotes from your time?
AJ: I can give you a sports and a work story. When I was working in China, I was not informed that they make up holidays there. So when they have the day off on Thursday, they have to make it up on the weekend and no one told me we were going to have to work on Saturday. And I was sleeping on Saturday and my boss called me and said, “Hey, we’re working today, where are you?” I said, “No one told me, I thought we had the weekend.” He said, “No we make it up in China.” So that was a little different. China is also a little different culture wise. They have a big basketball culture, they are big into the NBA. When I went to work at a basketball camp in Wenzhou, it’s like three hours south of Shanghai, and I showed the kids basketball highlights at night after we did our camp during the day. They wanted to see Lebron James highlights because it’s not as prominent over there as in the States.
John: Ok so a year and a half in China and then what was next?
AJ: Now I currently work for the town of Plymouth as an assistant director and a youth center director.
John: So what kind of stuff are you doing day to day?
AJ: So right now I’m not technically doing my day to day.
John: True, COVID has affected everyone’s work.
AJ: Honestly I haven’t stepped foot in that youth center in Plymouth because A) it’s been under construction and B) COVID so I haven’t done that day to day for the youth center. So we’ll see how that goes hopefully in the next month. I was a beach director for a summer, I run flag football leagues, run soccer leagues, T-ball and some coaching.
John: Cool. And with all this experience, is there something you can kind of point that that’s been rewarding from all this work? Because you know there are definitely some common threads working with kids, working in sports, managing the logistics of these tournaments and events. What do you find most rewarding about your experiences as a whole since you’ve graduated?
AJ: What’s most rewarding is the parents’ appreciation. You can tell a parent is disappointed in a program from the coaches or staff, fortunately I haven’t had many of those incidents. I try to make sure the coaches are doing a good job instructing but also having fun and interacting well with the kids.
John: Right, I’m sure the parents are showing gratitude.
AJ: The parents will say, “This is a good program, when are you going to coach again.”One of my bosses at Viking put it this way, “Between the classes and the coach, it’s always about the quality of the coach.” If I put out a good coach, the kids are more likely to return or go play T-ball in their backyard.
John: Yeah, because I mean you’re the one who is doing the hiring of the coaches and managing them right?
AJ: Now I am yeah, but when I first started doing Viking it was just me out there and some other coach and I was the lead coach but now I have to start to train them. Hopefully now, since I have three years of experience of working with six to eight year olds, I can lead them on the path.
John: What do you tell coaches?
AJ: I just tell them to be loud, learn their names, be specific. When I say, “Come to these cones.” The kids are going to be like, “What cones, blue cones, red cones?” Be specific with kids, because they are not the brightest bulbs sometimes. You need to be specific so you know exactly where to go. And know their names, be loud. The transition needs to be quick. They are young, especially when it’s hot outside, get a water break real quick and use those thirty seconds, forty five seconds to set up the next game.
John: Good advice for sure. I’ve had my own experience running English camps, running that sort of thing. Being specific counts. Ok let’s see, do you have any future goals related to advancing your own career in the industry?
AJ: So right now as it stands I’d like to be my own rec director and have my own department because working for the municipality, there is a lot of people above you right now so there is a lot of people who can say no to things which is kind of a bummer. So either do my own thing, or eventually open up my own shop, or an extension of someone else’s program, but be its own entity in a different area. A private company.
John: Interesting. I guess you’ve had that experience working for a private company and now you are working for a town and you’ve also worked internationally. Let’s first talk about the difference working for the town or municipality versus working for a private company.
AJ: In the municipality you’ve always got to hurdle more steps. There are more potential people in the way to say no and also less staff available. In a private company you have more freedom but it also comes with more responsibility. I also feel like the perks are better with the municipality because you get better benefits and higher pay. I also felt the municipality had more of a set schedule, whereas the private company was more all over the place with half days and an inconsistent schedule. You still get the forty hours, but I’ll work twelve hours one day, two the next or four the next. You’re just all over the place. But at the town job you have forty hours and you can’t go over your forty hours. It’s tax money so we can’t give overtime. There’s more hurdles or B.S. to handle.
John: Yeah, bureaucracy.
AJ: Behind the scenes stuff where government policies are put in place for checks and balances.
John: Do you like having the set schedule of just forty hours a week consistent?
AJ: I’ve asked to start new programs, but she’s said, “We need you here. As long as you can find someone else to run it, you can do it.” I wanted to run it, but she said, “You can’t do it.” So there’s no point of me setting it up and putting all the effort into it, if someone else is going to mess it up.
John: So you have benefits like better pay but less flexibility and creativity.
AJ: Yeah exactly, because my other boss I’d ask “Can I do this?” and he would say, “Yeah that’s fine.” They didn’t care as long as it made money.
John: But I think when you talked about one of your previous goals, you would want to set up your own shop that would be a private thing right
AJ: Honestly I didn’t know if I was going to do it before. My boss talked to me before about having my own Viking Sports, but doing it somewhere in the country, almost like Smart Soccer Star?
John: I’m not familiar with that, is it kind of like franchising?
AJ: Yeah kind of like franchising my own but obviously I wouldn’t do it right now, it’s kind of a bad time for after school activities. We talked about it before, but we don’t know how the financials would work, maybe a franchisee. You would be the head of it but you don’t have to do the leg work, like a website is already set up. You just have to go out and find the field space, the after school programs and lay the groundwork like that.
John: Yeah, find the students, find the parents.
AJ: Yeah get the fields space, pay for that and you are set up already. They can go register online, just make sure you have the equipment and you are good to go.
John: That very well could be a good option. Sounds like a lot of work.
AJ: It does but I saw someone try to do it in L.A. with our company. It got off the ground but wasn’t into it. He left L.A. It’s something I have contemplated doing. So I’ve seen how a rec department works now. They are paying these guys to run the program but they’re still getting a cut of the profit. Say the rec company makes twenty five off a head and the rec is still making like fifteen.
John: When you say rec department do you mean a town’s department and then they will outsource to a private company and the private company takes a cut but it’s all just coming from the rec department’s budget?
AJ: Exactly. I forget, exactly how much do we charge per kid, but in Brookline it was more like we charged one hundred bucks per kid to play soccer for eight weeks and we would make whatever it would be like sixty for the kid and the rec department would make forty. I don’t know what the cut would be, every department was different. So when the outsource a program, their rate on that website includes their mark up for them running it. Obviously when we run a program in house, it’s cheaper, rather than using another coach outside.
John: That’s interesting, I didn’t realize that the company and the government were connected like that.
AJ: So obviously they always need a certain amount I didn’t realize that too.
John: So you’ve been working in sports for eight years? How many years now?
AJ: Yeah, eight.
John: Anything you wish you knew before you got into this?
AJ: The hours. I know running minor leagues you have super long hours. Some days are longer than others, like twelve hour work days. That’s one thing you are probably going to expect to get into. Long hours coaching/running summer camps. Or even professional sports the long hours, the days are just long. That’s one thing I wish I knew. I think it’s like in any job too, the long days. But I feel like it’s here more than others. It’s one thing to be in the office and have a long day and then being on your feet running around all day.
John: Out in the sun too.
AJ: Yeah, getting that farmers tan.
John: Good intel. Would you recommend people working internationally? Can you tell the story a little bit of getting offered the job in China and going because I remember it happened really quickly but I’m sure you know the timeline better than me.
AJ: It happened at the end of summer camp.
John: But even when you first were offered the job to go to China I feel like that was a pretty quick turnaround.
AJ: The time I went for the summer camp?
AJ: I think that was a three week turn around. I can’t remember what happened exactly, they couldn’t find someone or I think someone backed out and they needed a coach. I don’t know which one it was. One of those two, but they needed somebody quick, and I was willing to go.
John: So you heard about the job and then three weeks later you’re in China?
AJ: Three weeks later I had my visa and I was pretty much on my way to China.
John: That’s wild. Do you recommend if they have a surprise opportunity to take a big leap, it doesn’t necessarily need to be going to China, but it could be going to another country, going to another state, just taking an opportunity like that. Are you happy you did it?
AJ: I am super happy I did it. Sometimes, it definitely tested me because of the language barrier teaching over there. But for the most part I feel like the kids really enjoyed the sports. For the most part they don’t really get to do it as much as American kids. That’s what I took from it. They don’t get taught physical education as much, but when they see how hard you try to work with them, they try harder to participate. They don’t want to disappoint you.
John: Overall, you would recommend?
AJ: Yes, the worst you say is you go for a year and you’ll come back and you’ll probably learn something from it, either a new culture, language and how they do everything over there. And maybe it will make you a better teacher in the end.
John: Yeah, that’s good advice. I think we’ve covered everything I wanted to talk about. Is there anything you wanted to share for someone that is interested in this field.
AJ: I’ve mainly been in the recreational field but there are other avenues to take. I’ve seen people open up their own gym, do marketing for professional baseball teams, working in the minor league system. There are so many different avenues you can take. I went one way and someone else might go a different way. I think one of my friends went to law school after sports management and he might become an agent.
(Check out more possible paths in our Careers Guide)
John: An agent, ok.
AJ: So there are a lot of ways you can take it. It’s up to you which way you want to go with it.
John: Nice, well I think that probably does it.