Zak Zumbiel, Senior Coordinator of Youth Relations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, focuses his attention on Youth Outreach events and projects mostly centering around flag football and military outreach. Though he is new to the position, Zak brings along with him his experience from working in previous positions such as the Senior Coordinator of events of Heads up Football with USA Football. Zak knew in college that he wanted a career that paired his philanthropy and love of sports – and he set out to do just that! Zak works incredibly hard and used his connections during his career to advance his education. An internship towards the end of his Master’s degree is what solidified his passion for sports! Follow along with me as Zak speaks about his journey and provides valuable advice for new graduates.
Please note: The interview with Zak Zumbiel was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the Senior Coordinator of Youth Relations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I just started this role 3 weeks ago, but it has been a blast so far. My role specifically centers around youth flag football, military outreach and other special events/projects pertaining to youth outreach. The company is very heavily focused on creating awareness within flag football, specifically with a growing interest in female participation.
I also head up our Jr. Bucs program focusing on Middle School athletes. With this, we are visiting 100+ schools in the Tampa Bay Area and running flag football clinics with them. It is a great way to get the kids involved in a fun, safe environment!
What does your day to day look like?
As most roles within sports are, my day-to-day varies. Right now, my primary duties are organizing & executing Middle School Flag Football events for various schools throughout the Tampa Bay area to help create awareness and teach the fundamentals of the game to students as part of our Jr. Bucs program. Along with that, we have miscellaneous Youth Football events on the horizon that need my attention as well. This week, we will be visiting the MacDill Airforce Base with some of our players, and last week, we completed a Youth Mock Trial event at the courthouse as a part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Social Justice Initiative Program. My first home game of the season is coming up on 11/10, so that will also be a great experience to learn how that side of the operation works from a youth standpoint focusing on our Crucial Catch Initiatives, starting with our annual Treasure Chest 5K in the morning!
I noticed you were the Senior Coordinator of Events and coordinator of Heads Up Football with USA Football. Were these roles very different from your current role?
Coincidentally, I will still get the opportunity to work with my old colleagues at USA Football in my new role. We will still be involved in the Heads Up Football Program – created to teach and improve the safety of the sport – as well as collaborating with them on various other Youth initiatives and programs. The roles were similar in many ways, but in my new role, we are more targeted to the Bay Area as opposed to the entire country. Also, in my new role, I will have a greater focus on Flag Football and how to create awareness of the sport.
The main difference is that I will still be executing events but on a smaller scale. Instead of having a few large events to work on, I will be handling multiple smaller events with more collaboration from other departments – with our primary event days being Tuesday’s (players day off).
It seems like you’ve been in sports since you were younger. You started off by getting a BA of Marking/Sports Business at Northern Kentucky University and went on to get your master’s at the University of Kentucky in Sport Leadership. Take us through the first years of your journey to becoming who you are today? What made you want to revolve your career around sport?
Throughout college, I went through a lot of different career options. I remember I wanted to be a teacher, physical therapist and even a police officer at some points in my career. Finally, around my junior year of college, I realized all of the opportunities that the sports & entertainment field had to offer. From there, I knew that I wanted to be able to combine my passion for sports and philanthropy into a career. I wanted to lead a life of service towards others.
The problem that I had was that I didn’t have enough experience yet to be appealing to companies. My goal was to get a Master’s Degree in the field so that I could further my education while also making important connections. I was lucky enough to hear of a Graduate Assistantship position from a friend, took a chance, and ended up that The University of Kentucky!
That was a big transition for me and my first big move – going to a new city, with a new job. I learned a lot about myself in those two years. I learned that taking risks can pay off and that you have no choice but to learn about yourself, your limits and your potential.
The next big move I made was in my final semester of my Master’s Degree when I actually interned for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their Community Relations department. This was unpaid and also was about 14 hours from home. It was a high risk/high reward situation, that ended up paying off in the end! This internship is where I found my passion for giving back through sports. It is amazing to see what impact an organization can have on and off the field and how it can bring a community together.
What would you tell a Sport Management/Business student who has just graduated on how to become a leader in sport like yourself? You have had a unique opportunity to work for several sports such as baseball, basketball and football. What would you tell someone about the pros and cons of switching which sport they work for?
There are a few words of advice that I would give to a student that just graduated:
1 Never give up
As hard as the journey can be and the sacrifices that you have to make, please stay the course. It is worth it in the end.
2 Take Risks/Get out of your comfort zone
This is the best way to learn a lot about yourself personally and professionally.
3 Make yourself known
As an intern, my goal was to be the first one in/last one out every day. Also, with permission from your supervisor, take the time to sit down with other people at your company and get an idea of what their day-to-day is like. You may learn how what they do connects with your role, or you may find an interest in what they do that you want to pursue on your own. Either way, you are making a connection.
I have been very fortunate to work in different sports from the NFL, to the MLB to the non-profit sector. Besides the obvious differences between them, I would make sure that you work for a company that you have a passion for. It goes a long way when creating events and initiatives when you know align with the same goals/beliefs as the company and enjoy the sport itself. This is definitely something that can be learned, but having fun in your career is the most important factor.
Are there any difficult moments that stand out to you, which have helped make you a stronger Senior Coordinator? How do you maintain a positive mindset through tough situations?
I feel like everyone has to go through some difficult times in their career and it ultimately makes them stronger. I would say to not fear rejection. I remember that I was turned down for 50+ jobs that I applied for before I got my first full-time offer with the Oakland Athletics. But, I stuck to my beliefs and stayed the course, which turned out in my favor in the end.
Looking back on it, doing an unpaid internship was very challenging, but I made it through. You end up developing a good support system and routine that ultimately helps you get through the hard times. If you stay focused on the common goal and stay positive, it helps you become stronger. I remember that I used to set weekly personal and professional goals that I would try to meet and that helped to keep me motivated. Regardless of the hard times, you always come out stronger!
What are three essential skills someone needs to learn before becoming a Senior Coordinator of Youth Relations for a football team like yours?
Although there are multiple skills that are acquired before you take those next steps in your career, I would highly focus on these three to be successful:
1 Make Meeting Deadlines A Strength
I’ve often found that if you can meet or exceed deadlines, people are more appreciative if you and the work that you are doing. Also, it helps to keep all of your teammates/colleagues on track to reach common goals! This is a very underrated feature that can help you stand out and gain trust with your co-workers.
2 Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up
The term “no question is a dumb question” is extremely true. I believe that it is important to ask anything that you need clarification on and also, make yourself heard in group settings. This will allow you to not only perform your job better but will make you invaluable and on the path to earning respect!
3 Treat Everyone Equally
I believe that it is important to treat everyone in the building the same. That includes everyone from the janitors, to the interns, to random guests that stop by, to the CEO. You never know how you can positively impact someone, make their day, or who may be your boss one day! I do not take this method lightly!
List your top five greatest moments in your sports career.
1 Obtaining My First Internship With The Cincinnati Reds
This gave me hope, and was actually a call back an entire season later, which made me feel really good. This was my first small break-through.
2 Landing My First Full-Time Job With The Oakland Athletics
This was something that I worked hard for and was considered a big break-through in my career.
3 Working The NFL Draft & NFL Pro Bowl
This was a great initiative that I was lucky enough to be a part of with USA Football. It was also a bucket list item for me.
4 Obtaining A Master’s Degree
This was extremely significant as I was the first of my immediate family to do so and it was something that I never thought that I would accomplish! It also opened up a lot of doors for myself and career.
5 Being Able To Travel The Country
Through sport, I have been able to explore and live in some amazing cities in the country. I am forever grateful for those opportunities!
Brandon’s Final Thoughts
I want to thank Zak Zumbiel for being so open and forthcoming with his journey to becoming the Senior Coordinator of Youth Relations. Like many successful businessmen, making his way to the top was not easy for Zak Zumbiel. As he mentions in his interview, he was turned down by over 50 different companies before he got his first full-time job offer with Oakland Athletics. The takeaway message from this is a good one, and one that he can pass on to the youth that he works with – never fear rejection! Stay focused, stay positive, and let rejection help you grow stronger. We look forward to seeing Zak’s career journey in the coming years!