What does an agent look for in an athlete?

What does an agent look for in an athlete?  I am often asked this question by athletes looking for representation and sometimes even by coaches and friends. Choosing to work with an athlete is more of an art than a science. Just as there are no perfect agents, there are no perfect athletes. As a small agency that favors quality of representation over quantity, the chemistry between me and my athletes takes on a heightened significance. Here are the factors that I consider in determining whether an athlete and I will be a good fit.

  1.  Ability — How good is the athlete? The single most important question for the agent is this: Does the athlete have the talent to compete against the best in the nation and the world in his/her event? What has the athlete already accomplished in his/her career? What are his/her personal bests? Whom have they competed against? At what events? How recently? Has the athlete achieved the IAAF standard for his/her event?
  2. Potential — How far can the athlete go? Has the athlete plateaued? How much of the athlete’s ability is untapped? How old or young  is the athlete? What is the athlete’s health/injury history? Will they get better? How much better? Much of this is admittedly guesswork, a balancing act. It’s a gut feeling that the agent has about the athlete often after consulting with the athlete’s coach and crunching numbers.
  3. Goals — What are the athlete’s goals & aspirations? Are they realistic? I have found that men seem to overvalue their skills and what they can achieve, while women often undervalue what they can accomplish and how much better they can get.
  4. Commitment — Is the athlete committed to the process, long term? It takes time, sometimes a very long time, before that breakthrough performance comes. Sometimes it never comes.  Overnight sensations come along only after months and often years of training. Does the athlete know that success at the professional level takes commitment and discipline over the long haul? Is the athlete willing to make the sacrifices to get there? Will the athlete’s passion and enthusiasm wane when times are bad?
  5. Support — Who is on the athlete’s support team? Are they on board with the athlete’s ambitions? Is the coach, spouse, significant other, and family all-in with the sacrifices that they and the athlete will have to make for the athlete to compete professionally? Do they understand the rigor and discipline that it takes for an athlete to commit to be great? Red flags go up when those closest to the athlete are not on the same page and have reservations or doubts.
  6. Business — Does the athlete appreciate that sports is a business, the business of entertainment? Does the athlete understand that to succeed and make a living, he or she will be asked to do more than just run PBs and have top 10 finishes?  Will the athlete take the time to grow out his/her brand, the brand of a sponsor, and the sport? Will the athlete embrace the idea of engaging on social media? To selling product? To participating in community outreach? To meeting people at race expos? To doing Interviews? To speaking in classrooms?

These are just a few of the more significant factors I take into consideration to insure that the collaboration will work for both of us. Unfortunately, there is no simple algorithm or formula that answers the question.

My next column will try to answer the question: What should an athlete look for in an agent? Stay tuned. And feel free to share this column with other athletes or your support team.

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