Sports scouts observe athletic contests to gather information that will help the team that employs them. They may attend a game in the hopes of recruiting a player, or they may accumulate information about an opponent’s players and strategies. There are approximately 1,000 professional sports scouts in the United States.
History of Sports Scout Career
In the first part of the 20th century, baseball became popular as a professional sport. Large eastern cities like New York and Boston were home to some of the best and most popular teams. While these teams competed in baseball stadiums, their scouts were competing to find talented, young players.
Traveling by train through the South and Midwest, baseball scouts rushed from town to town in hopes of discovering the next Cy Young or Cap Anson.
Some scouts worked for professional teams while others signed players to personal contracts, hoping to sell those contracts to the owners of professional teams. As baseball became more organized, scouts began to work almost exclusively for one professional team. Soon, young prospects no longer were sent directly to Major League Baseball teams, but played in the minor leagues or farm teams. These teams were set up to teach players, who already possessed excellent abilities, the subtle nuances of the game.
These new teams created a need for even more scouts. In addition to locating and signing talented young players, other scouts were assigned the task of watching these players develop and deciding when they were ready to advance to the next level.
As football, basketball, and soccer became popular sports, professional teams began to hire scouts to evaluate the talent of players and the strengths and weaknesses of other teams.
The Job of Sports Scouts
Sports scouts attend sporting events and record their findings for pay. They may travel from city to city watching other teams from their league play, or they may attend games for the purpose of recruiting players for their own team. Scouts are an extension of the coaching staff of a team, and in many cases, assistant coaches have scouting responsibilities.
There are two general tasks assigned to scouts. One is recruitment, the other is to gather information about an opposing team. Recruitment scouts attend high school and college games to look for talented young players. Coaches or general managers from professional teams may inform scouts about specific personnel needs. For example, a basketball coach may need a guard who can handle the ball well and shoot jump shots. A scout attends numerous college games and then returns to the coach with a list of players who meet the description. In most cases the list returned will rate the individual players and include some additional information, such as the players’ ages, heights, and weights. Notes or impressions from an interview the scout conducted with the player would also be included. Recruitment scouts may attend a game to see a particular individual play but will also make notes on other players. Scouts may see ten or more games a week, so they must keep detailed notes. Scouts must also be comfortable with statistics, both compiling and understanding them. Scouts examine statistics like earned run average, yards per carry, and field goal percentage in order to assist them in their deliberations concerning players.
A scout may need to see a player more than once to determine if he or she has the ability to play at the next level. Scouts report their findings back to the coach or general manager, and it is up to that person to act on the scout’s recommendations.
Recruitment scouts need to see numerous games so that they acquire the ability to accurately assess talent. Scouts need to distinguish between players who have sound, fundamental skills and an understanding of the game and players who are natural athletes but have not yet acquired the finer skills.
Many professional sports leagues have minor leagues or developmental leagues in which players not yet good enough to play at the highest professional level hone their skills. Professional baseball has minor leagues, or a farm system, that consists of players who have talent but are still maturing or learning skills. Many scouts are assigned to these leagues to keep a watchful eye on players as they develop. For example, a Major League Baseball team may employ both full- and part-time scouts, most of whom concentrate on players already playing in the minor leagues. They also receive a daily report compiled by the Major League Scouting Bureau (MLSB). The MLSB is a professional scouting organization that is overseen by the Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball. It employs approximately 34 full-time scouts and 13 part-time scouts. Other professional sports leagues have similar systems. The National Basketball Association has a developmental league, and the National Football Association has a developmental league in Europe. Sports scouts are also assigned to these leagues to evaluate talent.
Assistant coaches and scouts often attend opponents’ games to find out about players’ abilities and team strategies. They watch the game, diagram set plays, and note players’ tendencies. During practice the following week, scouts share their findings and, when possible, detail plans to help offset an opponent’s strength.
Sports Scout Career Requirements
There are no educational requirements for becoming a sports scout. Most scouts are former players or coaches in the particular sport in which they work.
A general high school education will give you the basic skills you need to succeed in sports scouting. Speech and English courses will help you communicate easily with prospects as well as relay your findings to coaches, managers, and front office workers. Learn Spanish or Japanese to help you connect with foreign players, who are increasingly sought after by Major League teams. Finally, take physical education classes and join sports teams— especially the sport for which you want to scout.
There are no colleges and universities that offer classes in sports scouting. Professional baseball teams do send promising employees to a “scout school” that is sponsored by the Major League Scouting Bureau. Employees learn the basics of scouting and how to judge talent. The most famous graduate of the school is former scout and current White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams.
First and foremost, a person who would like to become a sports scout should have vast knowledge of a particular sport. For a sports scout, an athletic contest is not only something to enjoy, but something to study. To be a successful sports scout, you need to be detail oriented and methodical in order to understand the rules, regulations, fundamentals, strategies, and personality types that are best suited to athletic competition.
You also need to have above-average organizational skills. More often than not, you will attend several games before reporting to a supervisor. You must be able to organize your thoughts and notes so that you can compare players from several games to come to conclusions about their abilities.
Communication skills are very important. You should be able to write and speak well. You will interact with other coaches and players on a daily basis. If you work as a recruitment scout, you will be in contact with younger players, and so it would be helpful to be able to work well with and understand younger people. A proficiency in a foreign language, especially Spanish or Japanese, will be also of great help, since you will be sent to foreign countries to monitor the development of promising athletes.
You should also be a team player, a good judge of talent and character, and be able to recognize ability and mental toughness in others.
Exploring Sports Scout Career
It goes without saying that individuals interested in a career as a sports scout should participate in sporting events at the high school and college level. You can participate either as a player or as an assistant to players or coaches. You should read a variety of books by coaches and athletes to learn fundamentals and strategies. Also, take part in community sports programs to interact with a variety of players and observe different styles of play.
Sports scouts are employed by major league organizations throughout North America and the world. Others work for professional scouting organizations, such as the Major League Scouting Bureau.
Many sports scouts are former athletes who have retired from playing and use their knowledge of the game to scout for younger talent. Not only do athletes gain knowledge from years of competition, but they make valuable contacts in the sporting world.
An aspiring sports scout should become familiar with local sports activity and keep track of talented young players. Meeting people who are active in the sports community is a great help. Sports scouts are part of a vast network of people who gather, compile, and exchange information about sports. Coaches, broadcasters, and journalists are also members of this group.
Sports scouts who provide accurate and concise reports often have the opportunity to observe more talented athletes. A professional baseball scout, for example, may begin scouting college players. As the scout gains experience in providing reliable information, they may be assigned to a minor league division, and eventually may become the director of scouting for a Major League team.
Scouts who succeed and advance are organized, honest, and effective communicators. Sports scouts build their reputations by identifying players who will be successful at the professional level. Advancement is often based on the success of the players whom the scout has selected.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Sports scouts and coaches had median annual earnings of $25,990 in 2005. Beginning sports scouts and coaches earned a salary of $13,650 or less, while the most experienced scouts with many success stories earned more than $56,400. Sports scouts also are reimbursed for travel expenses and meals. Another fringe benefit is free admission to countless sporting events.
Many sports scouts also receive such fringe benefits as paid vacation and sick days, health insurance, and pension plans.
Sports scouts travel an average of three weeks out of every month, and they are away from home most nights and weekends. While on the road, they stay in hotels and eat most of their meals in restaurants. They travel often by car or bus and also frequently by plane.
Workdays on the road are quite long. A sports scout may be on the road by 7:00 a.m. to drive four hours to meet with a player and watch an afternoon game. There may be another game to see that night in another location, or the evening may be spent reviewing videotape of games attended over the last few days.
Long hours and near constant travel are typical of work as a sports scout, and more often than not, there is little reward for the effort. A scout may recommend several hundred players over the course of their career and only a handful of those players will ever make it to the professional level. Despite this, dedicated sports scouts continue to visit isolated diamonds, tiny high school and college gyms, and the cracked concrete of the urban ball court looking for the next superstar.
Sports Scout Career Outlook
There will be little change in the number of sports scouts employed in North America. There are approximately 1,000 professional sports scouts in the United States and most work for professional teams. Baseball is the sport that employs the greatest number of scouts.
A relatively new concept in the industry is pool scouting. The concept involves a group of scouts who collect data on a great many players and provide that information to several teams. The scouts are not employed by any one team, but by professional scouting organizations, such as the Major League Scouting Bureau.
As professional leagues add expansion teams and the talent pool diminishes, there will probably be more opportunities for sports scouts to travel and work in foreign countries. On the other hand, if professional sports leagues contract, there will be fewer job opportunities for scouts.