Obviously it isn’t the same if you interview for a sports scholarship at some college as a track runner, and if you interview with reps of NHL teams before the annual draft. The setting, the level, the sport or discipline you dedicate yourself to–it all has an impact on the questions you will face in your interview. Having said that, certain questions do repeat–questions about your past, motivation, goals, ability to deal with tricky situations each athlete has to deal with, etc. We will look at them right now, in order to help you succeed in an interview and get the deal (or contract) you hope for.

Before we proceed to the questions, I want to point out one crucial thing: Learn as much as you can about the club, team, city, or organization you will interview with as an athlete. Because you can be sure they will ask you questions like “Why did you choose our team/school?” etc, and you won’t make much impression without knowing something about their history, coaches, facilities in place, and so on. Now it doesn’t mean that you have to become their new historian or anything. Just make sure to do your research, write down things you find interesting, and get a decent grasp of the organization you are hopefully going to play for… Let’s proceed to the questions now.

 

Please tell us something about yourself.

First question, but certainly not only an icebreaker. Remember that while they are keen to know you as an athlete, they also want to know you as a person. Now it doesn’t mean that you have to narrate them the story of your life (unless they ask you to, of course). But you should say something about your background, education, your humble beginnings in sport, and so on.

Do not hesitate to show ambition (they will ask about your goals in a separate question), because at the end of the day this is sports interview, and in sports results count, and each team or school want to sign up athletes that are ambitious, and can help taking their team to the next level. While introducing yourself you should also name one or two hobbies, something you enjoy in your leisure time, to show them that you have also life outside of sports, and that you are ready to speak openly in the interviews.

 

Why did you decide to apply for a place in our team/club/school/organization?

The research you’ve done will come handy at this point. However, you should be realistic. Saying that you want to “play for the best” while applying for a team that ended at the bottom end of the league last year won’t take you far in the interviews. You should always think about the situation of the team, and adjust your answer accordingly. Perhaps they aren’t doing well, but you like challenges, and for you it is motivating to apply for a place in a squad where you can make some positive difference, and perhaps become the one who helps them escape the averages, and finally shine at the pinnacle of the sport.

Another alternative is referring to things that stand out in your eyes. Think facilities for the athletes (perhaps something you can just dream of in your city), coaches, management of the entire operation, sponsors, team philosophy, etc. As you can imagine, the answer depends on the place and the sport, but once you know what you should focus on in your answer, and do a good research prior to your interview, you should be able to deal with this one fairly well.

What are your goals as a runner/basketball player/chess player/swimmer/etc?

Every ambitious kid dreams of winning the Olympics gold medal one day, or becoming the world no.1 in their respective sport. Interviewing for a professional contract, however, you are likely not a kid anymore, and should be more realistic in your answer. Remember that people sitting in the interview panel know your sport well, and perhaps they are aware of your personal records and achievements. That’s why I suggest you to talk numbers, especially if you do individual sport like athletics or tennis. Perhaps the time you’d like to beat at your favorite distance, number you want to achieve in this or that ranking system, etc.

Of course things change in team sports, and you should focus more on the results of the team, and how you hope to contribute to them. Try to stay realistic though. Consider the recent seasons of their team and the players they have onboard, and aim for something the current team can realistically achieve. Of course you should have some ambition, and aim for better results than last year, but playing in the fifth division and saying you want to take the team to second division in three years just won’t sound realistic to the people interviewing you…

I also suggest you to mention some goals that perhaps transcend your performances on the pitch/course/stadium. You can say that you hope to inspire people from certain community, motivate children to move and play sports, helping raise awareness of some worthy cause, etc. Talking about such goals you send a clear sign to the interviewers that you are a mature individual who doesn’t live only in the small bubble of their sport.

 

What do you consider your greatest sporting achievement so far?

As I’ve already said, results matter in professional sports. Hence your first choice should be the best result you’ve achieved so far. If you play individual sport, it can be a certain time/distance/weight you achieved in your discipline, but also a victory or medal in an important event. You can also briefly explain your journey towards the goal, how hard you trained and what you had to sacrifice.

In team sports you should focus more on the results of the team, though of course you can narrate how exactly you contributed to the success. That means how many goals/points you scored, how many matches you played, your role in the cabin, etc. Remember that people interviewing you may not know your local league/championship that well, and it is better explaining them the basics of the competition, so they can get a better picture of your achievement.

An interesting alternative way of answering this question is talking about you an injury you overcome, or some mental or financial issues, and came back to the sport you loved, and reached a good level again. Perhaps this has been your greatest victory so far, and it certainly shows your resilience and other qualities important for every athlete.

 

Tell us about your greatest failure in sports so far.

Talking about achievements and accolades is much easier than talking about failures. Yet every athlete and true sports lover now that failures and setbacks belong to life of every professional athlete. Show the interviewers that you can admit making a mistake, analyze the situation, learn from your failures, and most importantly move on, always looking ahead, instead of dwelling on that one race/match/season that simply didn’t go well. That’s exactly the attitude they are looking for.

The most important thing here is to accept the responsibility. Many athletes blame the coaches, family, bad luck, God, or universe for their bad results. That’s not the attitude your interviewers are looking for. On the contrary, you should accept the responsibility for the failures, or at least part of the responsibility, and ensure them that you’ve learned your lesson and won’t repeat the same mistakes again.

 

Other questions you may face in your sports interview

  • Athletes face a lot of pressure, from the coaches, fans, and other stakeholders. How do you cope with this pressure?
  • Who inspires you? (Which athlete you look up to in this sport?)
  • How do you imagine your typical week training for our team?
  • Do you do any other sports? How do they contribute to your development as an athlete?
  • What do you know about this city? How do you imagine spending your leisure time here?
  • Have you ever been injured, and how did you deal with the injury, physically and mentally?
  • Many athletes want to join our organization. Why should we choose you instead of some other applicants?
  • After everything that has been said in this interview, do you have any questions?

 

Final thoughts

Life of a professional athlete can be incredibly rewarding, but it isn’t easy by any means, especially at the beginning, when everything is new and you have to build the name for yourself. That’s why you won’t face only questions about your results and goals in sports, but also questions about dealing with pressure, failure, expectations, injuries. Unless you are an exceptional talent (with exceptional results in junior categories), each interview answer matters, and you shouldn’t underestimate your preparation, including the research about your future place of work… I hope this article helps you to prepare for the interviews, and wish you best of luck on the big day!

Matthew

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Matthew Chulaw
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