Sam Zapatka (’13) always knew that he wanted to work in sports. While pursuing his degree in Sports Management at Springfield College, he served as the Pride’s assistant volleyball coach, which allowed him to travel with the team to the World University Games in Kazan, Russia in 2013. He also interned with BlazeSports America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to change the lives of children and veterans with physical disabilities through adaptive sports, which motivated him to become a Certified Disability Sports Specialist.
Those experiences helped Zapatka land a job with the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2015
With the USSF he has served as the National Teams Coordinator, the Events Operations Coordinator, the Events Operations Manager, and now the Men’s National Team Manager.
These positions have taken him everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Rio de Janeiro to the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar. Zapatka spoke with The Springfield Student’s Corey Raftery about why he came to SC, what his current role entails and his favorite memories of his time on Alden Street.
Why did you choose Springfield College?
Zapatka: I grew up overseas in Thailand. My older two brothers live in the New England/New York area. I wanted to be a little bit closer to them. And, the athletic director at my international school in Bangkok was a Springfield College alum. I was always interested in Sport Management. I took a quick tour at Springfield one summer, applied early and [got accepted]. I’m thankful for that decision.
How did your time studying Sport Management at Springfield College help you pursue your career?
Zapatka: Studying Sport Management at Springfield College was an incredible experience. I think the best thing is that, because Springfield is so small, I had the ability to make really good connections with some of my professors, like Professor [Robert] Accorsi. He was one of the first ones who I really got in touch with. He helped me get my internship which eventually led to my first job. Dr. [Kevin] McAllister is another professor that I still talk to on a regular basis. I’m doing a couple mentorships with some current students, and it’s always good to give back. I owe a lot to Springfield for my career.
What clubs were you in at Springfield College?
Zapatka: I was involved in the Sports Management Club. And then I was one of the student assistants for volleyball. So I worked with Coach Charlie Sullivan, throughout the three-and-a-half years that I was at Springfield. We won two national championships.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Springfield College?
Zapatka: Our sophomore year, winning our first national championship at Nazareth, was just an incredible moment. I remember coming back and partying in the townhouses, having some fun there and then continuing the next year, when we actually hosted the championship at Springfield College the following year. Volleyball was a huge part of my college career. I still keep in touch with all of my former teammates, and I try to catch up with Coach Sullivan once a month.
Who was your biggest motivator or motivation to keep pursuing this career path?
Zapatka: Professor Accorsi and Dr. McAllister, definitely. When I came in as a freshman, I was in the mindset that I wanted to work for the NBA or the NFL, the big sporting organizations. And I quickly realized, through some help from Dr. Mac and Professor Corsi, that maybe the smaller, nonprofit, Paralympic Avenue, was where I wanted to go. So from my internship with Play Sports America, a not-for-profit organization based out of Atlanta, I got a full-time job once I graduated.
How did you react when you first got the job with the national team?
Zapatka: I remember like it was yesterday. I started out in the equipment room, and I was a team coordinator then with the youth team. So I worked with a lot of the younger guys. One thing I really enjoyed: I worked with Tyler Adams, when he was in the youth under-20 program. And then when I transitioned to the full team, it was cool to see us both go through kind of the same process. I started on the youth side and made it to the men’s national team, same as Tyler Adams. I remember our first camp together, with him coming in and then me as the manager. It was like, “Hey, we made it.” It was a really cool moment.
Was there any point in your career when you had to overcome something difficult?
Zapatka: I actually started in this role right before COVID. At my first-ever camp as Men’s National Team Manager, we were supposed to go to Qatar in January 2020 for a month-long camp. Right after we landed, we found out that [Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general, was targeted and killed by a U.S. attack]. When we got to Qatar, the regional security officer within our embassy recommended that we not do the camp. It was my first camp, and we had to change everything within 12 hours. We stayed up all night, and we took the whole camp and moved it to Sarasota, Florida. Fortunately, thanks to a good relationship with IMG, we moved everything. That was by far one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career – then in March COVID hit.
What are some of the responsibilities that you have as the men’s national team’s manager?
Zapatka: What I do is logistics. I talk to all the players and I talk to the players’ clubs. We have to get them released during FIFA windows and organize all of their travel – flights and ground transportation. I lock in all the contracts for all of our domestic and international hotels, and secure training facilities.
What career goals are left on your bucket list?
Zapatka: I always want to continue to improve. The next step for me is to take more of a management role, whether it’s working for FIFA, or working for an English Premier League club in London. That is definitely a goal and an ambition of mine.
Photo: Sam Zapatka