How to become a sports scout

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They say those who can’t do teach. Well the same goes for those who can’t play. They coach, report, cheer or scout. There are journalism schools to become a sports reporter and fan sections for those who just want to cheer. But how does one become a sports scout?

Having gone the reporter route myself, and not following the scout path, I did some research on “how to become a sports scout.” Several school of management and academic sites popped up at the top of the page, directing me to applications and bullet points about learning to become a scout. But something about the lists and applications wasn’t sitting well with me. It doesn’t seem right that you can learn to become a scout in a classroom. Of course there is some sort of training to be a scout, but there has to be something more.

Here is the most important thing I gathered from my research: there is no right way or direct path to becoming a scout. According to former New York Jets scout Daniel Kelly, “it’s not as easy, nor as hard as it sounds.” In a piece he wrote a few years ago about becoming a scout, Kelly stressed that “what it really boils down to is what’s inside of a person. These invisible traits are also known as the critical factors of scouting. These are someone’s intangibles, their inner characteristics, their psychological DNA if you will.”

Kelly was 24 years-old when he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an NFL scout. He wrote a 350-page “NFL draft guide,” and eventually he got the call. He was hired as a scout for the Jets. After making it himself and spending time in the business, Kelly closed-in on several characteristics he sees as essential in order to become a professional, and valuable, scout: belief in yourself, desire to make it as a scout, writing skills, good people skills, being dependable, having vision, imagination and instinct.

His story proves that becoming a scout isn’t necessarily about where or how you’ve trained, nor is it necessarily about who you know (which, knowing someone in the business is always a perk). Becoming a scout is a combination of everything from knowledge, to passion, to dedication and more.

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NHL scout Tom Thompson, on the other hand, shares two clearer paths to making it: player turned scout or working your way up through the ranks. Many teams look for ways to keep their former players around, and many who decide to stay in the business easily move over to be scouts. The other, tougher way, is for those who didn’t play professionally and who have to start at the bottom and work their way up. Many start as interns or coaches for lower league teams.  Thompson says his path was similar, as a minor league hockey coach, he was asked to do some, as he called it, “‘bird-dogging’ for the local junior club.”  

He outlined the steps it takes to become a full-time scout, beginning with having some knowledge of the game, then making successful recommendations and eventually advancing to a position of authority in a junior club. The scout-in-the-making brings players that help the team succeed and his or her players move up to the majors. The scout is then pegged as someone with a “keen eye for talent,” and from there someone gets in touch with him or her from the majors. And voila! A scout is born.

Thompson’s list of steps reminds me of Kelly’s philosophy: becoming a scout is not as easy, nor as hard as it sounds.”

Of course there are the more structured ways of becoming a professional Scout. The UK-based Professional Football Scouts Association (PFSA) offers introductory courses on becoming a scout, as well as different levels of talent identification classes. Many also earn their degrees in sports management as a stepping stone to get into the scouting business.

Again, there is no clear way to become a professional sports scout. There is no specific school such as law school or medical school, no specific tests you have to pass, and no GPA requirement. What is most important in becoming a sports scout is knowing your sport and pursuing your dream, regardless of how long it takes and what obstacles may be a long your way.