Sports equipment managers are responsible for maintaining, ordering, and inventorying athletic equipment and apparel. They deal with everything from fitting football shoulder pads to sharpening hockey skates to doing the team’s laundry. There are more than 800 equipment managers employed in the United States, with the majority working for collegiate and high school teams.
Sports Equipment Manager Career History
Sports cannot be played without using some sort of equipment. Keeping that equipment in good working condition and safe for players to use is the job of equipment managers. One of the major reasons for the emergence of professional equipment managers was the need for qualified athletic personnel to fit football helmets, according to the Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA). It was not until the advent of the plastic shell helmet, which contributed to a more intense-contact game, that the number of injuries in sports rose. The National Operating Committee on Standards in Athletic Equipment began developing standards for football helmets. This increased attention also focused on the need for properly fitted equipment and specially trained personnel to perform the sizing. The AEMA was formed in 1974 when “a handful of equipment managers got together to discuss how to promote our profession and enhance the protection of student athletes involved in football,” says Terry Schlatter, former AEMA president and head athletic equipment manager, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Job of Sports Equipment Managers
The responsibilities of equipment managers vary greatly, depending on whether they work for high schools, colleges, universities, or professional teams. Duties are also different from sport to sport, because some have more participants than others. “My responsibilities include budgeting for all of the university’s sports and requisitioning of equipment,” says Terry Schlatter. “Some equipment managers might not do anything with budgets and might just fit football equipment and do laundry.” Other duties include purchasing, maintenance, administration and organization, management, professional relations and education, and keeping inventory of all the equipment.
Sports equipment managers are responsible for ordering all the equipment (including uniforms) for their team or school’s sports programs. Once the equipment arrives, they make sure that it properly fits each player. Poorly fitting equipment or uniforms can cause discomfort, a lack of mobility, a reduction of vision or hearing, and even injury. After use, equipment managers keep the equipment in good working order. They inspect and clean each piece of equipment to ensure that it meets safety standards. Equipment managers are also responsible for equipment control, which includes pre- and postseason inventory, use, and storage.
“Duties also might include (but are not limited to) facility scheduling, maintaining relationships with vendors, keeping up-to-date on current trends and products available, compliance with NCAA and conference rule changes regarding uniforms and equipment, and game day management,” says Sam Trusner, men’s equipment manager at the University of Illinois.
Equipment managers need good communication and personnel management skills because they work with coaches, athletic directors, and their staffs. “The best part of the job is working with the athletes and coaches,” Terry Schlatter says. “The worst is the hours and that you receive very little recognition for what you do because you work behind the scenes.”
Sports Equipment Manager Career Requirements
High school courses that will be helpful include computer science, mathematics, and business. Serving as the equipment manager of one of your high school athletic teams or clubs will give you a great introduction to work in this field.
To become a professional equipment manager, the AEMA suggests one of the following paths: (1) high school/GED degree and five years of paid, nonstudent employment in athletic equipment management; (2) four-year college degree and two years paid, nonstudent employment in athletic equipment management; or (3) four-year college degree and 1,800 hours as a student equipment manager. Terry Schlatter recommends taking some business classes to help you prepare to handle equipment budgets and negotiate contracts with manufacturers such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. The AEMA offers a scholarship program to help with college expenses.
Certification or Licensing
The AEMA began a professional certification program in 1991. There are more than 500 certified equipment managers in the United States and Canada. To obtain certification, equipment managers must be 21 years of age and be a member in good standing with the AEMA, and complete one of the three requirements listed in the previous section. Once these requirements have been met, candidates must take and pass a certification examination. The certification process also includes continuing education, such as annual conventions, workshops, seminars, and meetings.
“Equipment managers must have excellent organizational skills and the ability to get along with many people,” Sam Trusner says. “They also must be able to take criticism, be creative and responsible, have basic computer skills, and, most of all, have patience.” To these qualities, Terry Schlatter adds the willingness to work a lot of overtime. “Football people work between 70 and 80 hours a week during the season,” he says.
Exploring Sports Equipment Manager Career
High schools, colleges, universities, and professional sports teams throughout the country hire equipment managers, although the number of positions with professional teams is limited, and they are very difficult to obtain. Several sports need the help of equipment managers, including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and lacrosse.
“I started out doing laundry, then went to fitting shoes and helmets,” says Terry Schlatter. “Then I was responsible for ordering all of the football equipment. From there, I became head equipment manager and was responsible for ordering equipment for all of the sports, as well as football. Now I handle budgeting for all of the sports, as well as Reebok contract operations.”
Some equipment managers began exploring the field in high school, where they served as volunteers for their sports teams. Others worked in that position in college, which is helpful for developing contacts for potential employment after graduation.
“Equipment managers can be promoted to administrative positions within the athletic department, such as athletic directors and administrative assistants. Some also obtain top positions with sporting goods companies,” notes Sam Trusner. In this industry, it is important to work your way up through the system. “Not many people walk into head equipment jobs without working their way up through the system or knowing a head coach who promotes them to administration,” says Terry Schlatter.
Salaries range from $20,000 to $60,000 for head equipment manager positions and $15,000 to $40,000 for assistants. Equipment managers’ salaries depend a great deal on if they work for a professional team or the local high school.
Equipment managers spend most of their time in schools or in professional team offices during the off-season. “Travel is generally limited to football,” Terry Schlatter adds. “Some schools might have the equipment manager travel with the basketball team. I would say 90 percent of the time is spent on campus.”
Equipment managers who work for professional teams usually travel with those teams and coordinate shipping of their team’s gear to each game site. Some football equipment managers might also travel to training camp.
Sports Equipment Manager Career Outlook
“The profession is changing rapidly and growing by leaps and bounds for college and university equipment managers,” says Sam Trusner. “With the current emphasis on adding more women’s sports to comply with Title IX guidelines, there is a shortage of qualified women’s equipment managers. AEMA certification has also brought about greater acceptance by administrators for the need to have qualified individuals in these positions. With the addition of computerized inventory programs, university-wide contracts with dealers, and the big-business atmosphere of athletics in general, equipment managers are being called upon to broaden their range of knowledge in many new areas.”