Last Updated on August 20, 2021
Interview with Joan Lehoullier
John from SportsDegreesOnline.org and Joan from Colby-Sawyer College spoke about her experience in the sports industry, graduate assistantships, working in college athletics and the role of internships for sport management majors.
About Joan Lehoullier
Joan received her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, her M.D. in Physical Education from Eastern Illinois University and her B.S. in Physical Education from Westfield State University.
John: I’d love it if you could walk me through and talk about how you got to this point in your career.
Lehoullier: I did go to graduate school right after undergraduate. One of the opportunities I had was to be a graduate assistant in the campus recreation program at the institution I went to. That sort of gave me some insight into how to work in the profession while studying it. That was a big part of my choice moving forward with where I went.
From there I started working in the profession at the college level in campus recreation, then moved into athletic administration at a couple different institutions, the last one spanning about twenty-one years as an assistant athletic director, then an associate athletic director, then a senior associate athletic director. I’ve put in a fair amount of time doing a lot of different jobs primarily in intercollegiate athletics. I really enjoyed that. Also during that time, I got my doctorate while working at my last institution and started teaching a little bit.
I fell in love with teaching as well too. I made the break six years ago and started teaching students what I’ve learned working in the field for over twenty-five years. So that’s what brought me to Colby-Sawyer, teaching and preparing students to work in careers that I enjoyed a tremendous amount. But now I enjoy the teaching aspect, and sharing what I learned along the way.
John: It might be a tough question, but which do you think you prefer, teaching or working in the athletics department?
Lehoullier: That is a tough question because I really did love working in athletics while I was there. I loved the competitiveness of working with our student athletes and coaches, providing the best opportunities possible for them to succeed. But I will say, once I started teaching, I really realized that is where I wanted to spend most of my time. You change as you grow and once you’ve done a lot of things, you want to share that knowledge. It worked out well that I had that opportunity to experience a lot of it, then translate that into a way to educate the next generation of sport administrators. It’s hard to say, it just worked out that I enjoyed each role at different times in my life.
John: That makes sense. I’d like to touch on the graduate assistantship if you don’t mind. In your opinion, how competitive are these graduate assistantship programs? If someone who has a bachelor’s degree in sports management or related major is looking at grad schools, how hard are these assistantships to get? Or have you heard any instances where a school is struggling to fill those positions?
Lehoullier: I think there are quite a few of them out there. They are competitive. Students have to have some good experiences and involvement during their undergraduate studies but I am always encouraging my students to go for it, because it’s the best of both worlds.
Master’s degrees are becoming required in a lot of positions, so I think it’s the best opportunity for them to get their experience working in the field while getting that master’s degree. Then you can come out of it with two years of experience, whether it’s coaching, marketing or compliance. I think it’s the perfect combination for any student wanting to pursue this path. I do think there are a lot of programs out there, maybe ones you never thought about going to but when you look through what they have to offer, there could be a match depending on your skills and ambitions. There are some big schools out there known for their sports management degrees and those will be very competitive to get into for graduate assistantships. But it’s about knowing where to look, and also, if you aren’t picky in terms of where you go within the country, there are a lot of opportunities.
John: What are some career options that sports management graduates might not be aware of when starting their job search?
Lehoullier: There are a lot of facility and event positions around now both with arenas and stadiums and that whole part of the business. Even with the influx of the private soccer, baseball and youth baseball facilities that have popped up all over the place, that’s a growing area that I don’t think people thought about initially. We had a couple students that did some stuff with our sporting event organizations, such as putting on the road races and Tough Mudders. Those are the kinds of things that initially people didn’t think about, but are growing trends. We’ve had some students do internships with those groups who are very pleased with their experience.
The other one I think about are the national governing board associations like USA Basketball and USA Volleyball. Those governing boards and associations have opportunities that most people wouldn’t normally have at the top of their mind. The other area is sport travel and tourism. I know in the past year and a half it hasn’t been great but I think it will start picking up again, in particular the agencies that are doing the youth groups traveling domestically or internationally.
John: What sort of leadership outcomes do you strive for students to achieve over the course of their studies?
Lehoullier: A few that come to mind, number one, really knowing themselves and what their own personal strengths and weaknesses are. You can’t really lead until you know who you are and what your own personal mission statement is so we help them to figure that out about themselves through some of the work we do.
Once they are comfortable with who they are, know what’s important to them and where they want to go, then they can be taught how to work and lead with others. We strive to do that by making high performing and dynamic groups. We have a way to do that at Colby-Sawyer because we get to know our students really well. We are a small program with smaller class sizes. Our advising is very personal, which we can do in a way that larger programs can’t do. In terms of leadership, that’s the important piece. They need to know themselves first, what their purpose is and where they want to go. Once they know that, it’s about focusing on group work and leading in those small and large environments.
John: Yes, self awareness is very crucial. Moving on, What sort of advice do you have for students to best prepare themselves to get the most out of their degree?
Lehoullier: We really encourage them to get involved with on campus opportunities to practice what they are learning about, getting involved with campus recreation, intra-murals and clubs to become an official, supervisor or work in the facility. Putting what they learn into practice is an easy thing that they can do on our campus. Also, a lot of our students who are in sports management are also student athletes, so they are putting some of that into practice in terms of what they are doing with their athletic teams.
We also try to encourage participation in internships, to really work with them and help them meet their professional goals. We also try to get them involved in volunteer opportunities. Last year there wasn’t a lot going on but we did have some triathlon and road races happening. Getting students out to work those and experience things in action is important so they can see what they are learning in the class, transferred to the real world and understand why it has value.
We also encourage them to attend professional conferences when possible. Obviously virtual ones were a little easier, but they aren’t as much fun. Hopefully we’ll get back to that as soon as possible. We have a lot of chances to connect with alumni as well, to give them chances to speak and network while they are on campus with us.
John: That’s great. Is there anything that really separates Colby-Sawyer from other sports management programs?
Lehoullier: We talked about the small classes as well as the advising and the close contact we have with our students. Also, we are fortunate that we do have all our sports management faculty working full time on campus which I think is a nice thing you don’t see at a lot of schools. There, you have a lot of adjunct faculty. For us it’s been very helpful for our students to know that the faculty they are going to have in sports management are all full time. There is nothing wrong with adjunct faculty in terms of quality of teaching in class, but it’s important for the students to have the accessibility. That’s definitely a bonus and something that students have commented on during their time with us.
John: Touching on internships which you briefly mentioned, how do you see their role at Colby-Sawyer? I know that it’s a requirement and all students need to complete it. One thing that I’ve noticed doing research at different schools is that requiring an internship seems to be a standard practice. Is there anything you want to highlight regarding the program at Colby-Sawyer? What do you think are the biggest takeaways students can get from completing an internship?
Lehoullier: You’re right. It has been an increasingly common requirement for sports management degrees and I think it’s rightfully so. It’s just so good for students to get out and work in the real world and figure out what they want to do. One of the things we’ve done is require them to do two internships. I think it’s great because it allows them to test one or two things. They can test the waters in a couple different areas that they might be interested in but they just aren’t sure about. Maybe it’s community recreation, high school athletic director or marketing with a professional baseball team.
It allows them to test a couple of different things they are interested in or if they know exactly what they want to do such as marketing, they can do a deep dive with two different marketing positions to give them that additional experience. We like that model and I think the students appreciate being able to get out there and do a couple of them. A lot of students will do one internship during one of their summers, which can be anywhere, near their home or traveling around.
One of our students traveled to the eastern part of the country and helped to put on the golf tournaments with the junior national program. I do really think our students have gotten a lot from experiencing different areas within the profession to decide what they like and don’t like. That’s part of the learning experience, thinking they like something, doing the internship and then realizing they don’t want to do that anymore. Our students have consistently said the internships are a valuable part of their time at Colby-Sawyer and It has allowed them to challenge themselves. I remember when I was a freshman in college and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a general idea but it changed. By the time they get to their junior year and they start doing these internships, they are able to focus on where they want to go and figure out the best path going forward.
John: For sure. You talked a little bit about the junior golf tournaments. Are there any other interesting jobs or internships that Colby-Sawyer students have gone on to do?
Lehoullier: As far as internships, we had one student work with NASCAR. He was a huge fan so he had a ball doing it one summer. We had another student do work with our local company that puts on road races all over New England. He also had a great time doing that. He learned a lot doing that. Those are a couple different ones that our students got to experience. In terms of some of our Alum, we have one who is the CEO of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was with the San Francisco 49s before that and worked his way through the professional sports world. We also have a mix of alumni who are athletic directors from community college to division one level. We also have alumni working in compliance, media relations and digital marketing. We have a young woman working for USA Volleyball as well, so really the gamete of different jobs with different organizations.
Like I said we try to bring them back onto campus to talk about their career paths and give advice along the way. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that we don’t need to bring speakers into campus, we can just Zoom in with them. Obviously it’s nicer when it’s in person but we know we can do it virtually now which is nice.
John: Are there any books, podcasts, media websites or blogs that you would recommend for someone interested in this field. Or is there anything personally that you are reading or listening to?
Lehoullier: I have been listening to a lot more podcasts these days which is different from what I normally do, which is reading. Also, I find that as I pick up new classes and design new courses, that I am reading more textbooks. With podcasts, I tend to listen to more when I am working out or doing that kind of stuff. I use the web blogs and podcasts of “Global Sport Matters”. I don’t know if you’ve listened to or read any of their stuff, they have a nice diversity of things from the professional and collegiate sports world. They have certainly taken on a lot of issues with racism and gender, so they have a lot of material out there for people to read and listen to, which I’ve really enjoyed doing this past year. The “Dare To Lead” podcast with Bene Brown is also good.
John: I’ve heard of it but haven’t listened to it yet.
Lehoullier: It’s not all athletic based but also leadership. She’s brought in a lot of good people talking about leadership and different practices. The other one I’ve been listening to is “Lead One” which is targeted towards college athletics. They talk a lot about the NIL (Name, Image and Likeness). They’ve brought in a lot of good experts to talk about that topic, which as you’ve known has become a hot topic these days. So those are the ones I’ve been listening to lately, “Global Sports Matters” “Lead One” and “Dare to Lead” which have been giving me a well-rounded view of what’s going on in the world right now.