Justin Sykes grew up donning the black and gold at numerous University of Missouri athletic events. Soon, Sykes will be sporting Mizzou colors as an official staff member of the softball team.
Sykes has been interning with the softball team for two years and was recently hired as its first director of player development, a position he will officially begin when he earns his degree in August.
“It’s very exciting, obviously,” said Sykes, a senior parks, recreation, sport and tourism (PRST) major from Kearney, Mo. “I’ve always loved statistics and analytics, so to be able to dive into those numbers to help our players develop is going to be really fun. It’s been awesome to be part of the program, and I’m ready to share my knowledge and help our team continue to succeed.”
When Sykes made the decision to attend MU, he actually showed up as an environmental sciences major, with an interest in becoming a meteorologist.
“I watched a lot of Storm Chasers as a kid and thought it would be fun to run around and chase storms,” Sykes said. “That didn’t stick, though, and I decided that I wanted to find a new path. I have always loved sports and found the sport management emphasis area within the parks, recreation, sport and tourism degree. I knew a couple of people in the program, and a lot of my friends said I should give it a try. I decided to make the switch and it’s been such a great decision.”
Sykes said one of the major perks of the PRST degree program is the focus on finding relevant real-world learning opportunities. He said that type of work is readily available, including on the MU campus. Before joining the softball team as a student manager, Sykes interned with the strategic communications office for MU Athletics.
Another positive for Sykes has been the opportunity to learn from a faculty who have held jobs in the sports industry.
“I love how much we are encouraged to go out and get those hands-on learning experiences,” Sykes said. “It’s also been incredible to learn from a group of professors who have accomplished so much in the sports world. It really brings a lot of weight to what they’re teaching us. When we ask questions they can give us specific examples of how they dealt with situations as professionals.”
Sykes has worn several hats as a student manager for the softball team and has slowly been easing into his new role as the 2023 season is officially underway.
“Right now I’m kind of taking in the responsibilities that I’ll eventually have full-time,” Sykes said. “I’m putting together some scouting reports and doing a lot of in-game pitch tracking. I take that tracking information and add it to our software so that we can study and learn from it. I’m watching a ton of video at the moment to see what the team is doing well and where we can improve.
“I’m taking things slowly as I finish up my degree. I’m excited to be able to jump into everything as a full-time employee.”
The player development role is the first of its kind for Mizzou softball. It is a position that is becoming more common among Div. I softball as teams look to make improvements and gain a competitive edge.
“I was definitely nervous when I pitched the idea to the coaching staff,” Sykes said. “I did a lot of research showcasing how a job of this nature can really benefit a program. I’m thankful that they liked my idea and it’s going to be incredibly rewarding to hold that title.”
Sykes added that he is excited to stay in Columbia – and thrilled to be able to continue to represent the Tigers.
“I’m happy to be staying in this atmosphere,” Sykes said. “I love working with the players and the coaching staff, and I’m looking forward to helping them reach their full potential.”