The key to being a great sports agent is rather obvious: Represent great clients.
Easier said than done.
Thousands of people aspire to be sports agents. Last year 850 agents were certified with the NFLPA. This doesn't count the thousands of financial planners, marketers, runners and managers contacting prospective draftees. What are the steps most likely to ensure success?
1) Have a compelling and coherent rationale for why you are entering the field. I want to represent role models who will make a difference in the world. We look for athletes who will use sports as a springboard for a fruitful second career. Think through what your motivation is and develop a firm philosophy.
2) Become certified with a Players Association. The NFLPA requires an undergraduate and graduate degree for certification. They vet agents for honesty and integrity in their background. Recruiting in the NFL is only allowed for agents who are certified.
3) Profile the type of athlete most likely to respond to you. Pick the sports you feel an expertise in. Look for the family background, geographical location, personality that produces athletes likely to respond. Research them. I realized in my early years that bright, ambitious role model athletes were the only ones who would respond to our admonition to retrace their roots -- establishing scholarships and foundations at the high school, collegiate and professional level. Players outside that profile were unlikely to be interested.
4) Prepare presentation materials that best present your firm. Booklets including biographies of the principals, a path to the draft, examples of previous work, contract negotiation skills, endorsements and second-career planning can be effective.
5) Find the individual doing the agent screening for the athlete. Parents and family friends are usually designated as the contact point. Some colleges do agent days. Don't ignore coaches, family members and others influential in decision making.
6) Be in compliance with all relevant governing bodies. States have agent registration boards and regulations that necessitate filing. Colleges have compliance personnel in the athletic department, and their regulations need to be followed. There are two rules governing collegiate athletic eligibility: a) an athlete cannot orally or in writing commit to an agent, b) neither an athlete or his family can accept anything of value from an agent. Nothing in these rules prohibits discussion by an agent with the athlete or his family. These rules expire after either the final game of an athlete's last collegiate season or the team bowl game.
7) Employ listening skills to discover an athlete's values and priorities. Tune in to their anxieties and fears and hopes and dreams. Get below surface responses to the emotional center of a prospective client. Don't treat athletes generically. They are all individuals.
8) Really care about the welfare of the athlete as a human being. If this career choice is only about a desire for fame and money, it won't do the athlete justice. Also remember that you are a steward of the sport. Without an enthusiastic fan base attending games, watching on television, playing fantasy sports -- professional sports will not exist.
9) Do not negatively recruit. Emphasize your own positive qualities and services. You do not want a romantic partner to fall in love with you because you convinced them that all other men or woman are monsters. Stay positive. I recruited 60 first-round draft picks in the NFL, eight of whom were the very first pick, by showing them a rewarding future.
10) Be realistic about the difficulties in such a competitive climate but do not be discouraged. The field of sports agency needs skilled, idealistic, committed younger agents to help athletes lead fulfilled lives.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.