Cool Jobs: Van Adams’ Mix of Sports, STEM and Business a Recipe for Success

Leader talks male-dominated industry and how to play to win

Van Adams (Image: Adams)

Van Adams (Image: Adams)

We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the BlackEnterprise.com Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.

When thousands of people were celebrating during Super Bowl XLVIII in the Tri-state region earlier this year, Van Adams (@VanAdamsSports), principal of VanAdams Sports Group, was deeply entrenched in executing marketing events for clients, facilitating sessions for the NY/NJ Super Bowl Committee’s Business Connect group and continuing to build relationships, one of the most important aspects of the sports industry in which she operates.

In the beginning, Adams played a major role in one of the most dominating sports programs in the NCAA at Grambling State University with their top tier Tiger football and baseball programs. As a student at of one of the country’s pioneer sports-business related academic programs, Adams was able to participate in the growing focus on sports marketing as a lucrative tool for businesses to gain exposure and reach consumers in an exciting and interactive way. At the time, very few women were involved in the profession nonetheless, Adams had a support system around her that enabled her to thrive.

Since Grambling, Adams held senior positions in marketing, community, public and media relations, editorial and business development at organizations such as the Buffalo Bills, United States Golf Association and Sports Illustrated. As she celebrates 10 years as principal of VanAdams Sports, where Adams works with a number of legendary sports celebrities and Hall of Famers, she also serves as president of the board of directors for the NYC Chapter of Women in Sports and Events (WISE), founder of Gathering on the Greens, and sports marketing professor at Manhattanville College. Adams is also a contributor to outlets including the NFL Women’s Community, where she shares career advice through her Defining Your Career series.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Adams to talk winning in a male-dominated industry and how STEM played a pivotal role in her career success.

BlackEnterprise.com: How did you get started in the sports industry?

Van Adams: Growing up, I always wanted to be a doctor. I was a pre-med biology major in undergrad. However, for graduate school, I focused more on sports medicine and majored in sports administration because I was also interested in starting my own practice. I still consider myself a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) girl, which I believe helped me in business and still does today. 

How did your work and studies at Grambling State University prepare you for your career in professional sports?

While at Grambling, I had the opportunity to be a part of the south’s “best kept secret” and experience Coach Eddie Robinson’s great leadership skills and drive for success, while working on the business side of the athletic department, pursuing graduate studies and teaching classes as a graduate assistant. My parents instilled the importance of hard work in me growing up and Coach Robinson created an environment that cultivated these practices while I was under his leadership.

At Grambling, I was able to build a great reputation and earn respect the people I worked with, which in turn, always gave them reason to speak highly of me when they were asked by my potential employers.

You started “Gathering on the Greens,” a series of networking golf workshops for women. What was the inspiration behind this?

I wanted to help women understand how to do business outside of the office. Men do it all the time. After four hours in a round of golf, you tend to know more about the people you are playing with, what you have in common, their background and more. Additionally, the health benefits are great. You are in a serene environment that helps lower stress and the walking helps joint flexibility and your mind. Being on the golf course, I’ve seen opportunities women are missing for their own career benefit because they didn’t try it. When women get requests to play, I want them to feel comfortable saying yes.

What are your tips for professionals or peers seeking to gain success in the sports industry?

Assess your strengths. Be honest with yourself. Understand what you are good at and be able to deliver consistently.

Hone your soft skills because these are what will set you apart. Hard skills are common and those alone do not do what they did in the past. There are smart people out there with less education today. This industry is competitive and focused on results.

Find a mentor. Speak with someone who does what you want to do. Develop relationships inside and outside of the industry, don’t be afraid to network and do not burn bridges. A great way to build relationships is by joining a professional organization such as WISE for women that want to be involved in the industry. Stay up to date on sports business and sports news. Follow the sports ticker as well as Sports Business Journal, a solid resource for the latest industry news. A Shark Never Sleeps is also a reading suggestion for those entering the field.

Mia Hall is a freelance reporter, speaker and host who focuses on the sports industry. She speaks and writes about professional development, diversity in sports business careers, community outreach, leadership, mentorship and accountability. When she’s not speaking or planning cause-marketing events in her role as a community manager at Barclays Center, she shares her stories, advice and musings on her personal blog, Mia’s Full Court Press.

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