TB University: No Vaseline...The Athlete/Agent Relationship

So, last "class" we talked about "going pro," how to do it, what that means. I mentioned briefly that even without the coveted salaried endorsement deals you and your agent can still put together a solid competition schedule every season that can net you a pretty decent income.

So let's talk about that.

Let's talk agents...

(also referred to as managers. I may use this term interchangeably throughout this blog)

I need to get one thing out of the way early. Your agent works FOR YOU. Not vice versa. This is such a difficult concept to grasp because:

1. You're coming out of college and a team of older adults has been telling you what to do everyday for the last 4-5 years.
2. At this point in your career you need them more than they need you, so it's easier to default to them on most things.

I had a list of managers that I called when I finally decided to forego my final two years of collegiate eligibility and throw my hat in the ring for a pro contract. 

Getting acquainted with an agent is a lot like getting recruited for school. 

They will tell you how well they'll take care of you...

What kind of contracts and deals they can get for you...

What kind of connections they have...

The meets you'll get into...

Oh the money we'll make...

Oh the places you'll go...

They'll maybe even say that their firm is like family.

And that's all cool,

But you need to remember that this is business, and hiring your agent which is probably the most important decision you can make as a pro (next to your coach) is the one you have to make when you're the least experienced.

So, what's an agent supposed to do? What's their role?

Well, an agent is supposed to be your point person in negotiations of potential deals, can make travel arrangements to and from meets and/or training camps, confirms your participation in meets, negotiates travel stipends, appearance fees, or performance bonuses at meets you are confirmed in, attend technical meetings in lieu of yourself or your coach, and whatever else you ask within reason, this list is not at all exhaustive.

In exchange for the aforementioned services the agent charges a fee, which is often a percentage of your GROSS (the amount BEFORE expenses are deducted) income earned.

They will tell you that that fee is 15% or that 15% is standard. 

And that would be true.

However, that fee can also be negotiated. 

Nobody told me that in the beginning.

To be honest with you, if you're just starting out, your agent is going to be working a lot for you, to get your foot in the door and to get you started. They deserve to be compensated for that.

So you and whichever agent you choose make an agreement, sometimes it's a written contract, sometimes its verbal, in both cases there should be mutual understanding to the terms and the fees.

When I was just getting started my manager did EVERYTHING for me: he decided my competition schedule, booked flights, made training camp accommodations. He even received all of my payments first, deducted his fee, and then forwarded me my checks.

It was as if I was HIS employee. He would tell me where I was competing and when, I'd ask few questions, look at my itinerary in my email, pack my bags and go.

That's not to say he wasn't a good manager. Because he was.

I'm saying I wasn't a good boss.

What happens now is this:

I call a meeting with my coach. We discuss my goals for the upcoming season. We then look at the competition calendar and make a wish list schedule of competitions that fits with the tentative plan we just crafted.

I call a meeting with my agent. I forward him my wish list of competitions.

As confirmations come in, I book my flights with itineraries I can live with (no four hour layovers in horrible airports), on airlines I prefer, in seats that are more comfortable.

I'm set up so that my sponsors pay me, and I pay my manager. 

They are set up to invoice for prize money, bonuses, and travel stipends. When that money comes in they wire it to me almost instantly.

I can see every single transaction from meets, appearance fees, to expenses) from my client page on my manager's website.

And every now and then a meet appears on my schedule I didn't ask for or didn't know about and I pick up the phone and ask the who-what-when-where and whys about it.

And sometimes I say, "good work, I like it, let's do it"

And sometimes I say, "no, I'm not interested please call now, and withdraw me"

Either way, it's my call.

And the side effect of conducting yourself in this manner with your manager is that you are taking ownership of your career.

You're not just some passive participant sitting at the gate in the airport after a meet talking about, "maaaan my agent got me going to this meet in (insert remote country here)" as if you had no choice in the matter.

When you start operating like the CEO of You Inc. your performances change.

You're fully engaged now.

You're involved now.

You're making money moves.

That self worth, that sense of pride that swells each time you handle your business and conduct yourself professionally overflows into everything else that you do.

And that's what this is about. This isn't just track and field, and this isn't simply business.

This is life.

Class dismissed.

Blogger's Note: in the beginning it's probably impossible to foot the bill for your travel in advance. So here's the next best thing: once you know you're confirmed in a meet get online and start searching for flights AS IF you were going to buy it. Once you find an itinerary you like FORWARD it to your manager and tell them to buy it because that's the itinerary you want/need.

nick steadman