Interview with Dr. Carrie LeCrom
John Cody of SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed Dr. Carrie LeCrom of Virginia Commonwealth University. They talk about the power of sports across borders, what makes students successful in their professional pursuits, and how students can best prepare themselves for a post-covid job market.
About Dr. Carrie LeCrom
Dr. Carrie LeCrom has served as the Executive Director of the Center for Sport Leadership (CSL) since 2015, holding various roles within the CSL since joining the staff in 2003. Her responsibilities at the CSL include setting the program’s strategic direction, handling academic matters, expanding the global reach of the program, and teaching courses including Sport Leadership, Research Methods, Global Sports Issues, Sociology and Sport for Development. LeCrom is passionate about the use of sport for social change and has secured over $1.3 million in grant funding from sources such as the U.S. Department of State and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. LeCrom’s research interests lie in sport for development, global sport, and sport consumer behavior. She has published in journals including the Journal of Sport Management, Sport Management Review, Sport in Society, the Journal of Sport for Development, and Sport Marketing Quarterly, among others.
John: If you could talk a bit about yourself and how you got to this point in your career. Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in academia?
Carrie: I did pretty early on in my professional career decide that. When I was in undergrad, I really connected well with my professors and was always a huge education fan. I loved learning so I thought that would be a good fit for me long term. I was an athlete in college, then came to VCU’s grad program back when it was only in its third year so it was really young, which is one of the things that drew me to it. I kind of thought I’d go through grad school then work in the sport industry for five or ten years then think about becoming a faculty member. But you know, VCU gave me some really good opportunities to stay here and study my doctoral degree and help build the program because, again, it was so young. I very quickly jumped into working in higher education and academia and it’s been a really good career path for me. It’s been a great fit personality wise. I love teaching, working with students, helping them figure out what they want to do. I think it’s a lot of giving career advice and the sport industry is such a good one to go into. It’s so fun to talk to all our students about all the possibilities and options. So I’ve pretty much been at VCU my whole career unexpectedly, but in a good way.
John: With some of your classmates from the VCU master’s program, what kind of careers or occupations did they go into?
Carrie: It’s interesting to look back now that we have been out so long and see what people are doing. From my class I’d say most are still in the sports industry, which is not always the case. We have college division one athletic directors, we have head coaches, I have classmates that work in recreational sports, development and high school athletic administration. I would say the majority are college athletic focused and that’s still kind of been the type of students that have been drawn to our program and I think there are some specific reasons for that. I still stay in touch with tons of classmates from the program and they are very successful.
John: I did take a look at your bio and saw that you have a lot of really interesting experiences, encouraging and facilitating culture exchanges with sports as the platform or medium, a way to sort of facilitate these exchanges. Can you talk a little bit about the role sports play in these interactions and exchanges?
Carrie: Sure. I think sports is one of the few things along with the arts and music that is a universal language. Something that can bring people together from different cultures whether that’s from the same country or from the outside of it and just give you the ability to connect over something that you really love. Over the last fifteen years, the CSL (Center for Sports Leadership) has gotten really engaged in creating programming that is doing that. We work really closely with the State Department and their sports diplomacy division. We created multi-sport programs where we can bring together different cultures and create this opportunity for mutual engagement and understanding of people that you may never interact with otherwise. But over time as we’ve developed these further we also always try to have another kind of underlying goal, whether that’s promoting sports for people with disabilities or gender empowerment or conflict resolution. We did a program in Sri Lanka, a previously war torn country where we can work on some of that conflict resolution side of things. Through these programs I would say I see such great examples of what sports can do beyond just being a good opportunity for physical activity and entertainment which is a lot of what we look at in the United States. We have brought a lot of this to our curriculum because we think it’s much more powerful. Finding ways to make sport a global language or make it a teaching tool is so critical. That’s been a really exciting piece of what we do here and we are about to embark on a new project with the State Department doing four projects in Sub Sahara Africa over the next three years.
John: For sure. That’s cool. Since you have your finger on the pulse in a way with the world of sports outside of the US, do you see any sort of relevant trends internationally with sports?
Carrie: That’s a hard question to answer. It’s obviously a huge question because I think if we are talking about professional sports or mega events internationally, it’s a different answer than if we are talking about some of these diplomatic or social change type trends. I think with the money going into international football, cricket, rugby, Olympic Games and World Cups you’re seeing a lot of changes in terms of who’s investing, what organizations are allowing to be part of that investment now and what they are monetizing. You are seeing a lot more requests for there to be a social aspect to it, a sustainability piece, or a legacy. I think there’s probably some good and bad going on in that. I would say as an educator in the United States that there is so much we can learn from sports abroad. There are probably some things that would help our sports here in the US and there are some that probably wouldn’t work because we are culturally very different. We just try to expand our student’s standpoint to say, “let’s look outside of our borders and see what’s going on and see how that can make us a better sports professional.” You look at some of the European countries that have such a great motto such as, “sports of life” whereas here in the US if you’re an athlete and you finish college, then what do you? You don’t really have many opportunities unless you are the top of the top. I think some of those trends are really healthy and hope we can shift this way. Some of the youth academies, I think there’s a lot of groups in the US that would like to adopt that model but also a lot of groups hesitant to do so. I don’t know if I’d say there’s this big new trend but I would just say we all need to be more aware of what’s going on globally because it can only help us to do our job better.
John: Can you explain a little bit about the “sports for life” in Europe? What does that mean exactly?
Carrie: Especially in the Scandinavian countries, they are really good at this but I would say most of western Europe as well. They have this motto where you as a youth decide you are going to play tennis or whatever sport you are going to play, you join your local sports club and that’s who you play for. You continue participating in that same club through your entire lifetime. There are as many opportunities for adults to participate as there are for youth. I think in the US we missed a lot of the opportunities for the people to continue participating even in team sports beyond the college level. There are a lot of really nice models of this especially in north western Europe. You join a sports club and you are an athlete for your entire life with that organization. Obviously if you move, there is another one you can join but this is a part of your culture being an active person. I really like some of these models they have over there. I think it’s one of the big missing links in the US. You can play in some adult leagues but there aren’t sustainable systems for post college participation in the US if you are not at that pro level.
John: What impacts have you seen so far as a result of Covid-19? Do you think the pandemic has brought about any sort of unexpected opportunities or growth within the sports industry?
Carrie: That’s a great question. Obviously the biggest impact is probably the financial impact and having to halt play. That’s pretty obvious. I think you’ve seen a lot of organizations reassessing priorities because of this. College athletics specifically trying to figure their role within the university and how should athletes be treated: the same or differently than other students. Without the games to be played you’re losing all your revenue from TV. Financially, it’s been a really difficult time for sports. On the positive side for growth opportunity, I think creativity is probably the most needed skill if you are going to work in the sports industry. You’ve seen some really unique ways that arenas and stadiums and even teams have been able to fill some gaps to offer drive in movies or concerts. I think some people have been able to weather the storm better because they’ve been able to think outside the box so to speak. I don’t think that’s necessarily been a positive because I think most of those things will go away once we can go back to the sports as we knew them. But I think it has set certain organizations apart from others in terms of trying to just ride it out. You need to find ways to have an audience and make some money. I would say that creativity has been the most needed skill this year. Creativity and innovation. In terms of growth opportunities, I certainly think some of the technology stuff has emerged. I think it was already emerging in terms of AR and VR, different ways to engage in social media and apps but I think this year because there has been an absence of sports, the tech side has moved quicker than it would have. As I mentioned at the beginning, I spent all of 2019 in South Africa working with some sports organizations and now I have been interviewing them on what they have done during this time. If you have a stay at home order, you can’t have your programming for youth. You just can’t have it. If you are in a country where the internet isn’t affordable, you can’t even do all this online programming that we for the most part in the US have been able to do. So we have been asking them what they have been doing and some of the creativity they have shown is really amazing. They have also recognized the need among their youth populations that they maybe wouldn’t have had before because they didn’t need to, because everything was going fine. I think it’s given organizations the opportunity to reflect, do some strategic planning, and really think about their mission. So I guess I am hopeful on that side of things. I, like everyone, can’t wait for this to end so we can go back to what we used to know and love. I do hope you will see some long term positive changes that have come from this down time where we have maybe been able to do more thoughtful planning.
John: That makes sense. Hopefully. How do you think students can best prepare themselves for a post Covid world as they’re entering the job market in the next couple of years? Anything else to expand on besides creativity that you can give advice on?
Carrie: All we have been telling our students this year and recent grads last year is that you have to be really patient, which I hate to say. I hope I don’t have to keep telling them that. I think now more than ever, you need to set yourself apart from others and find a way to do that. This year we are having them all learn Adobe Creative Suite platforms because it’s just another tool you can say, “I have familiarity with it, I can make your presentation look better than the other candidates.” There are small things, but I think anything you can do to set yourself apart, even a tiny bit, is going to help you. But the other piece I would say is, as we are preparing our students and even our alum who are maybe looking for new jobs or have lost their jobs as a result of Covid, we keep saying to them, “what have you been doing during Covid?” Even if you have a job, it probably hasn’t been the same job you had for the few years before that because we don’t have sports or as many or whatever it might be. Or if you are on the job market, you probably don’t have a job right now other than something you picked up on the side. So we keep drilling into our student’s heads, “how are you going to answer that question?” Because what you’ve been doing in a time when you have more time on your hands says a lot about how you will approach a job. You want to be able to say, “these are things I’ve been doing to learn more about my trade or network more with other people in more creative ways or to learn a new technology that might be important to me.” I think that’s going to be an important question for the next few years where employers are asking, “tell me what you did during that time other than just watch Netflix.” I think that is an opportunity, if you have used your time wisely.
John: You’ve seen students graduate and go on to various careers in the world of sports. What are some of the traits that make students especially successful in their pursuits?
Carrie: I think probably the students who are the most successful are focused on relationships. I think there are lots of jobs that can now be done by computers, I hate to say that, or behind the desk. But the ones who are long term successful understand the value in actually speaking to people and putting the focus on building a genuine relationship. If I could say one number one thing, that’s what it is. Yes networking is a piece of that but there are just some people who genuinely care about building a relationship with other people and for many reasons, end up being the most successful. I think they get the most opportunities, take advantage of the most opportunities and connect different people so that it’s not just them building a relationship to benefit themselves but it’s just as much about the other person. I think that the human piece is so important for every industry. If there is one thing I would say, that would be it. There are certainly many other traits such as having a passion for what you are doing and actually want to put in the time to make a difference but the students who really want to devote time and energy to building relationships are the ones who truly succeed.
John: Good advice. My final question is, if you have any final advice for students who are considering a career in sports as a possible path for themselves? What you said I think would be helpful for students who are graduating or on their way to graduating but how about those who are just considering sports as a career path?
Carrie: I would go back to the same thing I just said and I would also say that everyone likes sports and thinks they want to work in sports. Sure it’s fun and entertaining but if you are considering going into it, it has to be more than you being a sports fan. Sometimes if you start working a sport, you don’t get to be a sports fan in the same way you always were. I think just being really thoughtful, “do I just like sports and want to keep being a great fan or do I actually have a deep passion for learning the business of this and understanding the intricacies?” That is what we say a lot of times to students who are applying to our program, “why do you want to be in this?” If someone just says, “I’ve always loved the New York Yankees and want to be the GM,” then there needs to be a little more depth than that. Get experience, that is the only way you can learn. Then you can start checking things off your list and saying, “actually I don’t like this,” whether it’s a sport or specific area within sport. The more internships you can do, or volunteer for a local event that’s in your town, any of that stuff not only makes you look like a better candidate for a job or grad school but it will also help you decide before you devote your future to it. “Is this something I really want to do long term?”
John: Sometimes figuring out the things you don’t like to do is just as important as figuring out what you do like to do.
Carrie: Yes, we talk about that with our students a lot. You need to close doors on things too. Don’t feel like a failure if you try something and don’t like it. It means you’ve crossed something off your list and can move onto something new. That’s also a good thing. You can’t do that forever.
John: You’ve got to leave some doors open! Well, that’s all I have for questions, thank you.