Episode 027 – Next Level Sports Founder and Sports Agent Will Reece
Will talks about coaching hundreds of basketball games before graduating high school, transitioning from coaching to the world of sports agents, and how empathy is the key to networking and building relationships.
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Will Reece is the co-founder of Next Level Sports, a sports agency representing mostly Division I basketball coaches. He also founded the Collegiate Athletics Leadership Symposium (CALS) in 2011, an invitation only networking and learning opportunity for athletics administrators.
Will is an Oklahoma guy who began his career coaching basketball before transitioning into entrepreneurship.
- Will first off tell us a bit about your first career as a coach and just how you got into the sports world to begin with.
- Always dreamed of being a professional athlete, then once that wasn’t going to happen, transitioned to coaching
- Coached his first basketball team at 14; AAU 12 year old team
- As a high school sophomore, helped coach the freshmen, and as an upperclassman coached the JV team
- Coached summer league games
- By the time he graduated high school, had coached hundreds of games
- Coached through college as a high school assistant
- Never thought he would do anything else
- (Daniel follow up on getting those opportunities) – Had a friend/mentor/high school coach at Tulsa Memorial High school, Robert Sprague; took him under his wing.
- (Daniel follow up on who is the best player he ever coached) – Played against Renzi Stone’s Jenks team in the high school state championship. Brandon Lloyd was their best player, who went on to play at UCLA.
- Why did you decide to make a transition to entrepreneurship and the world of sports agency?
- After college was a graduate assistant for Bob Hoffman at Oklahoma Baptist
- Was an AD/Coach, then was the head coach at Tulsa Metro
- Always interested in the philosophy of why you do things, and how you communicate those to potential employers
- Led to the creation of a book that he would take on job interviews with plans, strategy, philosophy
- A few friends started asking him to put together similar books for other coaches, and his first business was born
- 2005-06 went to be an operations guy with Doug Wojcik/men’s basketball at the University of Tulsa
- Felt a change in his spirit from being a coach to doing something else. And it was shocking and dramatic, because coaching was the only thing he ever wanted to do.
- Decided then to get out of coaching, but didn’t know what he was going to.
- Looked for a way to live where he wanted to live, with the life he/family could enjoy and do something he was passionate about
- So he began to go have lunch and meetings with people in town who knew him and asked what they thought he would be good at
- Led to three months of selling insurance
- Then the opportunity came along to launch what is now NextLevel
- Looking back there were entrepreneurial touchpoints which demonstrate abilities to start a business, but it was tough at the time because you feel locked into your identity as a coach/teacher since you’ve done it so long and it’s all you ever wanted to do
- (Daniel follow up) – As guys we have a tendency to equate our job with our identity, and it’s important to separate those.
- How do you describe what it is that you do now? Many of us may think we know what a sports agent does from Hollywood or wherever, but set us straight on what it actually looks like.
- (17:15) – Everyone talks about the line “Show me the money,” but the line that he sees a lot in his business is “Help me help you!”
- He works specifically with college coaches (mostly basketball) rather than as a player agent
- Pillar One – Career Management and Advancement; Pillar Two – Contract Negotiations
- During basketball season, spends a lot of time on the road visiting clients, ADs, search firms and keeping up relationships and developing new ones
- Mid-Feb through end of May it’s crazy season!
- Different approach you have to take with ADs and presidents than if you were a player agent dealing with GMs and owners
- What are the top issues that your clients are dealing with when they come to you for career help?
- (24:15) Many clients are frustrated because they haven’t been able to break through
- It would be great if coaches could get the jobs they deserve, but it doesn’t work that way; they need to be put in position to be seen and interviewed
- That’s where NextLevel comes into play
- (Daniel follow up) – how just getting a law degree doesn’t result in a job without doing the legwork to put yourself into position
- Some clients will get it and eat everything up you advise them, but others will fight it
- The ones who get it know how to hustle and execute
- What are you seeing from schools (ADs and presidents) in terms of what they are looking for in their head coaching hires?
- (30:15) They are looking for a CEO
- You don’t spend as much time on the “game” as you think you might; you have to raise money, market the program, recruit, etc. You also have a staff to manage in addition to the roster of players
- Aware of social media landscape
- Tell us about the Collegiate Athletics Leadership Symposium. What made you want to start that in 2011
- (33:45) Professional development and networking event for college athletics administrators
- As a coach, always liked going to clinics, and this is in that mold
- The first one was in 2011, hosted in Tulsa with then-AD Bubba Cunningham (now at UNC-Chapel Hill
- It is by invitation only just based on who the most recent attendees think should be invited
- Many of us are familiar with NACDA and other industry conferences. What makes CALS different? Should it be thought of as a substitute or a complement?
- (38:15) Complement – NACDA has 6k – 8k attendees; the NACDA #2 has been to CALS several times
- Time of year (October) is a bit different; go Sunday night through Tuesday noon
- Had about 40 Division I ADs on panels as speakers
- Had search firms there too which helps them find up/coming talent
- The number one thing he wanted to do was add value to college athletics
- (Daniel follow up at 41:45 asking about the hot topics) – They really like AD panels talking about their career paths; crisis communications also big
- You are an expert in networking. What are some myths associate with networking and how can we do it the right way?
- (45:00) – “networking” almost a dirty word in college athletics; but inevitably it’s being discussed with three or four coaches who are networking themselves!
- Empathy is huge; put yourself in other people’s shoes
- Goal should be to build authentic relationships
- Where can people go to learn more about you and Next Level Sports?
- Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
- Jonathan Davis – production
- Clint Musslewhite – voice over