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Cait MacPhail | The journey to a pro sports career

Dreaming about a pro sports career or already on your own journey? We’ve got a story that’ll light your soul up with ALL the inspiration and advice.

Cait MacPhail is the social media manager for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and this is her story.

MEET CAIT MACPHAIL

pro sports career

“I would tell that 10-year-old who wrote that her long-term career goal was ‘to work in the NHL’ that it will happen. And that anyone who tried to tell her to be ‘more realistic’ could get lost.”

– Cait MacPhail
pro sports career

Who was Cait as a young girl? How did your journey through sports start and continue to where you are today?

Cait as a young girl? Well, she was sports obsessed. My love for sport and specifically hockey probably started when I was in grade one. I don’t know what initially drew me to hockey but I was drawn to the game (Let’s be honest it was the Oilers probably combined with the release of the Mighty Ducks)—everything about it. My mom couldn’t afford to put me in organized hockey so it was a lot of shinny on the pond and ODR days. I got my fill of organized sports through soccer, volleyball and basketball. I was always fiercely competitive, almost to a fault, so I knew sports were always going to be a part of my life. Getting to channel that passion into a career has probably been my greatest and favourite accomplishment and something I do not take for granted.

Can you take us through your journey to a career in sports and your role with the Oilers?

Coming out of high school, dazed and confused, I wasn’t one of those kids who knew exactly what the next step was. So I started by taking two years of an arts degree to get enough credits to get into the PR Diploma program at MacEwan University. I always knew my love of sports was something I wanted to pursue career-wise, so I wanted to figure out a way to marry my penchant for writing/communications with my love of sports. Once I finished my PR diploma, we had to complete an internship for full credits, so I was lucky enough to get on with the Edmonton Capitals for the summer (it was a baseball team in an independent league that the Edmonton Oilers actually owned for about two years before the league dissolved).

This was where I would meet and work with the guy (Ryan Frankson) who eventually approached me to gauge my interest in applying for a social media internship with the Oilers about two years later—a role that would work under him. (He is still my boss today!)

After that initial internship with the baseball club, I decided to go back and finish a degree in professional communications at MacEwan. I felt like having that extra education on top of my diploma was only going to help me down the line and I only needed two more years, so I sucked it up and finished my degree. It was definitely a big plus to have that in the long run. I found the various journalism and comms courses made me a more thoughtful and creative communicator and story-teller – an asset when looking at getting into a social media role. 

After I finished my undergrad, it was back to square one for the job hunt. This is where I will offer one of the most important pieces of advice I can: try to say yes to any and all opportunities in sports if that’s where you want to end up. I wound up volunteering for FC Edmonton as a communications intern in the summer of 2014. Volunteering is never ideal for the wallet, but it often makes the difference on the resume when you’re looking for that first entry-level position. I bartended nights and volunteered with the soccer club, writing articles, managing their social and lots of “other duties as assigned” to get some sports experience under my belt. The Manager of Communications I worked for at FC Edmonton ended up being my reference when the Oilers called and that ultimately tipped the scales for me over the other final applicant for the role of social media intern in 2014. 

From there, it was just a climbing of the ranks within Oilers Entertainment Group. I enjoyed the social media side of things so much, I saw myself eager to grow in the role as an overall emphasis on social and digital media itself grew. Coming into a social media role in 2014 meant I got the opportunity to help grow some platforms from their infancy (Snapchat, for example) and really help build out strategy, tone and more as part of the social team. I went from an intern, to a social media coordinator, to my current role as a social media manager. It’s honestly been a wild ride and I think I’m lucky to say that I still enjoy coming to work every day.

Sports may not always love you back, but I owe so much to them for making me the woman I am today. 

What’s your favourite memory while working for the Oilers?

pro sports career

Favourite memory, that’s a tough one because I’ve been lucky to cover and be around for some incredible events and moments with the Oilers. From the last game at Rexall Place, to opening Rogers Place and all the special games and events in between, there’s been a few standouts. But if I have to narrow it down to one, there is one moment that I can recall in stark contrast, and it still gives me chills. It was March 28, 2017. The Oilers had gone an absolute tear in March and were barrelling towards the playoffs for the first time in a decade but on March 28 they had their first chance to clinch. The clock ticked down on their 2-1 lead against the Kings and everyone in the building knew what was about to happen. The moment was almost a collective sigh of relief, as if the passionate and dedicated (albeit a bit jaded) fanbase still couldn’t trust it until it was official. But it was–FINALLY.

I went down near the bench to be able to capture the moment for the Oilers social channels and to be honest, I wanted to be right in the thick of it. Being a fan as well, it was a big deal. The clock hit zero and the building went nuts. I soaked it in. Our digital on-camera reporter would do a walk-off interview with a player after a win and that night it was Jordan Eberle. The reporter asked him how it felt, and I remember seeing Ebs not really have the words and instead, he just sort of took in the moment as the building shook around him. He told me later he couldn’t even really hear the question because the fans were so loud. That whole playoff run was full of awesome moments but the clinch was something special. It felt like it officially signalled the start of a new era. 

Would you say playing sports helped you to be more successful in your career? If so, how?

I hadn’t really thought about this question in detail before. But yeah, I think the amount of team sports I was a part of and how much of a priority I made sports throughout my life guided me down my career path. I always liked being part of a bigger team, where everyone has a small part in the greater success. It’s a lot like that working in sports and more specifically, a digital team. Our group of writers, video producers, web specialists, on-camera reporters and more have to work in lock-step every single day to make sure we’re on track and maintaining our daily coverage. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a member of our team pitch in to help a coworker when needed. It’s been amazing to see our team grow into the well-oiled machine it is (pun intended) and it’s all because we enjoy being a part of this team.  

I work with such talented individuals and it’s made me better at my own job. Because our group is so tight, I’ve been able to absorb skills from every faction of our web team. It’s pure teamwork. Since joining the Oilers, I’ve learned more about video editing, graphic design, photography, website publishing, writing and more. And it all goes back to embracing the team around you and leaning on your teammates to make you better at what you do. Sounds a lot like sports. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned both through playing and working in sports?

In addition to learning how to be a part of a team, I believe the biggest lesson sports has taught me is simply learning how to ride the wave. While sport is competitive by nature, you have to prioritize and remember the best part about it all: They’re fun as hell. So when the going gets tough, and it always does at some point, I try to remind myself that I’m lucky to be physically able to participate in sport and in my particular case, be immersed in it for a living. I am (self-confessed) not the best at managing the emotions and ups and downs when it comes to winning and losing in all facets of life, but having sports be such a huge part of my life has shown me that you can just simply enjoy what sports can be—and that’s just straight-up fun. 

Have you ever faced discrimination in the sports world being a woman in a male prevalent industry? If so, how do you deal with it? 

More Diverse Voices in Sports Tee: https://morediversevoicesinsports.com/

I think if you ask any woman in a male-dominated field, the answer to this question will most likely be yes. One specific example I can give is not being afforded the same access in my first few years in a social media role. I think when I was young and breaking into sports, I felt it was more of a “paying my dues” situation. Later on I realized that it seemed more related to my gender because while I did eventually earn equal access in order to do my job, I did not see my male colleagues go through the same “initiation period” (for lack of a better term).

I think the way I dealt with it was just continuing to show that I was there for a reason, and that reason was to do my job. I think that mentality can be applied to a lot of hurdles women may face in male-dominated industries. It’s not ideal by any stretch, but we get where we are for a reason and while progress has been made in the area of equal opportunity, one weapon you always have in your back pocket is the ability to put your head down and prove that you’re awesome at your job and were hired for a reason.

What’s the biggest piece of advice for other women who aspire to work in sports, especially in the pro leagues?

pro sports career

You belong. Full stop. You might face some unique obstacles along the way, but I’m convinced that makes women who do rise to the top just that much stronger. Working in pro sports is a wild ride and endlessly fun and if it’s truly what you want to do, you find a way to make it happen through dedication and persistence. True passion for sport finds a way to carry you where you want to go eventually, hurdles and all. 

If you could go back and talk to a young Cait, what would you tell her?

I would tell that 10-year-old who wrote that her long-term career goal was “to work in the NHL” that it will happen. And that anyone who tried to tell her to be “more realistic” could get lost. Having aspirations is what makes the journey fun—even if doesn’t end up exactly how you pictured it or in the time frame you hoped, the steps you take along the way will get you to some place you’re supposed to be. And as I’ve learned, the people you meet along the way is one of the best parts. 

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