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  • Brett Zalaski

Guest Article: Gaining Peace in a Turbulent Sports Business Workforce

Updated: May 21, 2018

With successes ranging from league-side to team-side, from NBA to NHL, from Intern to Chief Revenue Officer, Eric Kussin pushed himself to become one of the most respected executives in the sports business industry. He's now using his platform to promote something more important to him...removing the stigmas surrounding mental health. His company, We're All A Little "Crazy", is using the platform of sports to elevate the dialogue surrounding mental health with their #SameHere movement, their 15 college campus tour alongside Darren Rovell, and much, much more . Here, Eric discusses how young sales reps can create incredibly important peace of mind in the turbulent industry of sports.

Toxic work environments can and often do exist in just about every industry. However, in the sports sales industry, especially as a young sales rep, a toxic environment can mean early burnout and a quick desire to change careers. As it stands, in any sales environment, you're dealing with hustle category minimums, performance goals, and deadlines - three of the most stressful and anxiety-provoking factors that exist in any office. In sports, add to that the 'friendly' competition of 30-60 others just like you all vying for their next step, the comparisons to reps/sales groups at other teams, and the long hours that come with working games and events, and the last thing you need is to add the toxicity of other factors (related to people and/or process) that are outside of your control. You got into this industry for a reason - because it was a career path you were passionate about. You see your colleagues above you in premium or management spots and you say, 'If I can just get there, the micromanagement will stop, I'll be able to create my own workable schedule, and this will all have been worth it.' The question is: how do you survive and thrive when all the factors above are combined with some of that toxicity you don't have control over? The answer is by 'creating space.' Sounds like an overly-simplistic answer...so let's dive deeper.


As humans, our Central Nervous Systems have a finite capacity for emotional energy. Like a computer you've seen 'blue screen,' you can reach a point of overload. Often, blue screens come about because you've had too many programs open and running at the same time. Ever end up with a screen that keeps opening new browser windows almost exponentially as you try feverishly to close each new one out? Space is being taken up. Overload is happening. You either have to "X" out each individual browser or perform a complete system shutdown. In our world, that translates to a complete recharge and change of careers. But how do you avoid getting to that point?


Burnout is common for young reps the first couple of years after coming out of school for the following reasons: Our systems take in stress and trauma throughout our childhoods and into early adulthood. Loss of loved ones, being cut from teams, fights with friends, break-ups, poor test scores, etc. etc. etc. If you look back, all this 'stuff' builds up and is stored in our systems. It takes up room in our muscles, cells, & fascia. It can tangibly be seen, even though, for so long, we've thought of these factors as only affecting some 'mystical concept' of our brain/psyche.


Then, you go off to school...and new pressure mounts...pressure you may have never had to deal with before, including living on your own, shopping for yourself, & paying rent. What do most college students do to cope with the added stressors, on top of what they've already handled, in life? Sleep more. Eat more. Drink more...and other substances that are often used to self-medicate. Fast forward, and despite all that's been on our plate, we get excited to get that first job in sports and launch our careers. We see the letterhead on the offer with the team or league's logo and we get jazzed. We walk by the court, or field, or ice on the way to the office and our adrenaline rushes. We learn the product mix and want to pinch ourselves that we get to sell something that, as fans, we've loved for so long.


Then...the buzz wears off. Reality sets in. We haven't yet dealt with all the built-up stressors and traumas that came to us through life before (which still live in our systems). Unlike college, we can no longer sleep in late and push things off another day or week. We sludge through the day, trying to put on a happy face, and when we have the time and feel the energy we go to the gym to work on our physical bodies...which have likely taken a beating sitting virtually motionless for many hours of most days. However, we haven't dealt with that space. That space that was already crowded when we got out of school and took the job in the first place. It's now being crowded even more by the additional work stresses and toxic factors we can't control.

Since we can't always control the factors adding to those stressors, we need to devote time to control the factors that take away those stressors and create more space. Think of your systems like a balloon. A balloon only has so much room to take in more air, before it pops. Because of the environments that come with sports sales, the air is going to keep filling that balloon up. It's our job to find a way to drain that stagnant air out and create more space so that our balloons don't explode. How can you do this when you are worked to the bone, often coming in at 7 am and working until midnight? Fortunately, draining that air and making that space only takes 20-30 minutes of ritualistic practice a day.


Start by asking your managers for time to perform those practices as a group. Whatever they believe will be lost in time spent at your desks will be more than made up for in the renewed energy and productivity you'll have while you are working. If your managers don't give you the time, it's on you to schedule the time. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than usual. Cut your lunch short in order to do these positive practices. Skip the gym (yes, I am advocating that you prioritize your mental health over your physical health...and saying that no amount of endorphins can replace the work needed to create that space your system needs to function properly). In my work, we call these practices 'TSRR' or Trauma and Stress, Release and Rewiring (and they can be found under 'Treatments' on weareallalittlecrazy.org). There are roughly 12 practices that I rotate daily, that help me with my own TSRR. Everything from Breathing Practices to Yin Yoga, Tapping to Havening. Finding the time is hard...and you may feel "too exhausted" to carve it out on your own if your manager doesn't make it a scheduled part of the staff's daily routine. But I can promise you, if you find the time for 20-30 minutes of practice a day, you'll be able to handle any stressors or toxic situations that come your way, you won't burn out, and that shiny career path will remain in sight. We find the time to work on our physical health, but if you want to survive and thrive in this industry, regardless of the factors that pile on daily, find the time to work on that space for your mental health.