Updated: Jan 6
In this week's article I'll be covering a subject near and dear to my heart - student managers. What makes a good student manager program, how can you implement one at your college or university, and what benefits can you expect? All that and more found below!
“How do I become a student manager” is a common question I receive in my Twitter DM’s or the comment section of my videos. It’s no secret that that is where I started my career in baseball. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the awesome coaches, players, and other student managers I interacted with every day that made the University of Iowa such a special place. In this post I want to share with you how my experience as a student manager helped shape my knowledge of the game, and how you can structure your own student manager team to help make your program better.
I’ve done a few videos on student managers in the past covering things like my experience as a student manager, how to build a manager team of your own, or my thoughts on a good manager squad’s impact. My goal in this article is to build off all of that information to help you start your own program, or volunteer to get involved. I truly believe that a properly run student manager program makes a significant impact on a team’s success. It’s also a unique opportunity for motivated college students to get a step ahead of the curve when pursuing a job in a highly competitive industry.
SETTING UP A GOOD SQUAD
Being a student manager is what each individual makes it out to be. To me and my colleagues at Iowa, it was a chance to make an impact on a program trending in the right direction. Being closely connected to both the coaching staff and players created an environment that allowed those willing to work to excel in this newly created position. So what does it take to set yourself, or a program up for success? Let’s start from the beginning.
1. Hiring Process
Getting the right individuals in the room is a very important first step. If you’re new to this, reaching out to your resources on campus such as a Sport & Recreation Management Department or a Business Analytics professor would be a great start depending on your needs. Putting feelers out internally will allow you to have your selection of higher priority students at your disposal. But if that seems like too much work, I’ve always been a fan of the classic google form. Here is an example of an application form I’ve used in the past.
It has all sorts of questions on it relating to that individuals past experiences, their future goals, and everything in between. Figuring out why each applicant would like to join the team is incredibly important when you begin to sort out what their role with the team may be. For example, if someone has coding experience it would be a waste to have them hitting fungos all day. Your goal here (especially in the beginning) isn’t to identify your potential new hires, it’s to see who has interest and what they bring to the table.
Once you’ve collected a group of applicants, now it’s time to get to interviewing. For the most part, you’ll be talking to recent high school graduates looking to find their niche in this world - keep that in mind throughout this process. A good manager doesn’t have to be the one who is the most talented coming in… The best are those who come in looking to make an impact, want to contribute in any way they can, and who want to continue to learn more throughout their time here.
From here, you can choose to spread the word through University channels or just twitter. Here’s an example of a tweet that we posted last season in starting our hiring process at PSU.
2. Determining Roles
I hinted at this in the previous section, but in my opinion defining clear roles for each individual helps them thrive among their own strengths. These roles obviously are not binding, but the ability to prioritize a data analyst's skill set in the office is going to be more beneficial in the long-term. Now this will differ from team to team based on your needs, but in my experience these roles can be broken into 4 main responsibilities.
Let’s quickly debrief what each of these roles mean to me:
This role helps with any and all work done behind the scenes, and isn’t always strictly baseball related. Helping take inventory of merchandise, plan camps, and create recruiting databases are all examples of what an Administrative Manager may do. Individuals in this role should be organized, highly self-motivated, and have great communication skills.
Managers in this position have a more technical background than most of the rest of the team. Having an ability to code is a plus, but it isn’t required. I’ve had managers who have only had experience in excel do great in this role. The main goal of individuals in this role is to help organize your databases, clean your data, baseball research and create/automate reports to be used in your player development plans.
This is the position that most people would think of when they picture a student manager. Individuals in this role show up to practice every day to help with the setup and tear down of practice, assist in drillwork, and are generally there to aid in the flow of practice. Students here often have some sort of athletic ability so they can hit fungos, throw BP, or shag.
Video & Scouting
This role can be considered a hybrid between the Data Analyst position and the On-Field position. Managers in this role show up to practice at specific times to set up technology for scrimmages and bullpens, but don’t have to stay the whole time. Once their video collection is complete they are good to head back in to the office to cut and upload whatever was collected that day. In-Season their focus shifts towards scouting reports, which often can be distributed to the rest of the managers as well.
This is just an example of a system that I’ve implemented successfully in the past, so do some self analysis and figure out what could work for you. If your staff already has a strong understanding of the video and scouting processes that work for you, perhaps you don’t need to bring on anyone to assist in that role. The goal here is for you to analyze where adding a few extra hands could help make your program better. But what’s in it for them?
3. The Manager Experience
In order to get the most out of the individuals you’re bringing into your program, you need to make sure you’re providing them with clear cut benefits. Some programs have an excess of gear that can be provided to their new managers - but is that what motivated me when I was an undergrad? No. For the most part, becoming a student manager is a thankless job without a whole lot of benefits if you don’t apply yourself. Most programs don’t even have scholarships to offer to more than one (if any) of their managers. In part, this realization was the motivation behind creating these separate roles. Each role reflects that of an entry level position at the next level.
Data Analysts get real world experience analyzing baseball data before they even apply for their first big league internship. On-Field managers get hours and hours of exposure to the work that coaches put into improving their players. Administrative staff get the behind the scenes look at what can be done from inside an athletic department or front office. And Video & Scouting managers get to experience what life looks like for a video intern for a minor league affiliate.
Giving individuals who are already passionate about the game real world experience during their college career gives them a step up on any recent graduates looking to get their foot in the door for the first time. At the end of the day, the students volunteering their time to your program are only going to be as good as you let them be. Giving them direction, access, and motivation to make an impact on the team will allow your doers to rise to the top.
As with anything, some amount of autonomy within these roles is definitely encouraged. Video & Scouting managers might want to try their hand at coding, or on-field managers who interact with the players every single day might be curious which pitcher’s got the best stuff - and this is what it’s all about. Hosting sessions where the whole team can interact (like the Iowa Manager’s Mini Camp’s), promote those who want to learn more about what their colleagues are up to a great opportunity to do so.
Student manager programs have been around for a long time, but as the game has continued to change the utilization of the student manager role has changed as well. The new aged student manager is taking over, and if you haven’t thought to take advantage of it you’re missing out.
Over the past few years, it has been truly incredible to see the impact that student managers across the nation have had on their respective programs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on a few outstanding individuals, but here are some student manager groups who I’ve seen
Of course, I have to mention the three contributors to this blog Sam Bornstein, Demetre Kokoris and Adam Schuck who all come from a student manager position. I also have to give some love to both Penn State and Iowa's current manager teams who do an incredible job. Some others standouts include UNC grad Micah Daley-Harris, Illinois grad Charlie Young, and Cal Poly’s Ethan Moore. I know there are more, so if you know anybody who you’d add to this list link their information in the comments below!
Something my first boss at Iowa, Desi Druschel, taught me was to leave everywhere you go better than how you found it. If your skillset alone is the reason for a program's success, that all goes with you when you leave. A well run student manager program allows you to create systems that can continue on long past your time at your school. If you're willing to put in the work up front in establishing a quality student manager program you won't just be helping yourself or those kids, you'll be ensuring success for the future of your program. If you aren’t investing time in the world’s most valuable resource, people, then you are doing it all wrong in my opinion.