One of the best ways to learn and to prepare to enter the real world while in college or graduate school is to get some actual real world experience. During my first year of graduate school, I was presented with the opportunity to serve on my university’s Case Cup team at the National Sports Forum. At the time, I was excited to travel to Orlando to work alongside second year students and have the chance to learn from other sports professionals during the conference. I didn’t realize until after I’d returned how important my time at the NSF would be.

The NSF Case Cup competition was created to meet the needs of students who are just beginning their professional sports careers. Participating students, like me, are given the opportunity to compete in teams of four in a 24-hour multidisciplinary case study. The competition was designed to push sports management graduate students to behave as they would in a real world, fast paced environment.

In 2013, the year I participated in the Case Cup, there were eight different schools competing that were all given the same case. Each had exactly 24-hours to generate a solution.The deadline and working conditions were real; we could use the 24- time period as we wished, but our task needed to be complete and ready to present to a panel of four judges when the deadline was up. In the year I participated, our challenge was to activate Chobani’s sponsorship of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in the off-Olympic years.

My experiences with the Case Cup taught me three key strategies, all of which I think are applicable in almost all marketing and market research fields:

  • First, learn about the brand or the company that you are working for. Research is crucial to developing new ideas. It’s impossible to try and solve a company’s problem before understanding their business, their current marketing strategy, what they’ve done to activate past sponsorships, their current place in the industry, and what their true objectives are.
  • When generating new ideas, it’s crucial to have a team member dedicated to questioning your decisions and playing devil’s advocate. It’s too easy for a ‘group think’ mentality to take over and latch onto ideas that aren’t fully developed or could be improved.
  • Present decisions confidently, but be prepared to adapt on the fly. Be engaged with your audience and be mindful of their reactions. The tone of an entire presentation might need to be adapted mid-sentence based on the body language and comments of the listener(s).

Of all of my graduate school experiences, the NSF Case Cup competition ranks as one of the most profound (and nerve-wracking!) activities I had the pleasure to undertake. It taught me about the industry I was looking to enter, and also provided me with the opportunity to hone skills I gained in internships and the classroom that I can now apply to my position at Turnkey.