Whether you are looking to break in to the field or have been active for years, there are three types of networking you should keep in mind when looking to increase your connections in the field of sports.
I use the specific example of someone wanting to become a coach, but the same information can be applied to anyone wanting to go in to athletic administration, sports marketing, sport medicine, the health and fitness industry, and any other sports field that you can think of.
1. Direct Networking
Be sure to network directly with a person who has the power to hire. Many of the best jobs do not get posted, but are created purely because the right candidate appeared and demonstrated to the employer that he/she had passion and persistence, which led to the creation of a job.
The best advice I ever heard a coach give his interns was to encourage them to get in their cars and go visit the coaches at the schools where they wanted to work. However, be sure to schedule a visit with the coach. This is important! Do not randomly show up and expect to get a one-on-one meeting. This will only cause you to create a negative first impression and more than likely taint any future contact you have with that coaching staff. No coach likes to be interrupted in the middle of preparing for practice or a game or a recruiting session. Be courteous of the coach’s time and realize that even if it is off-season, he/she more than likely has a very long to-do list to accomplish.
Before your visit, be sure to do your research on the coach. Where else has he/she coached? What awards has he/she won? Once there, do not hesitate to ask questions. Find out what they did to become successful and ask them if they learned any hard lessons along the way. Ask them what skills and/or characteristics they look for in a good coaching candidate. See if they learned any good advice from a mentor. Be sure to know if they are a student of a well-known coach in the field and ask them how that relationship came in to existence. The answers to these questions could be valuable information for you to help yourself become successful!
This leads me to the next type of networking:
2. Informational Networking
Once you have that time with the coach, be sure to pick his/her brain and ask for advice in a certain area you know he/she is good at. This is something that both someone new to the field can employ, as well as someone who is already working in the field can use to expand his/her network.
People love to share what they know and it boosts their confidence that you came to them with a particular inquiry. Make sure you know if this coach is known for anything in particular – a specific coaching method/philosophy, a pivotal event in a school’s athletic history, etc. Find out the motivation behind that particular style of coaching or the preparation that had to transpire for that record to occur.
This form of networking helps you establish new connections as well as maintain the connections you already have without making it appear as if you are “checking in” with them just in case you need this person to recommend you for something.
3. Power Networking
Once you have established a database of contacts, be sure to tend that networking garden on a daily basis. Connect with at least one to three people every day. Any less than one and you are neglecting your garden; any more than three and you are not making authentic or genuine connections. As you expand your network, be sure to keep every business card or contact information you get along the way! You never know when a particular connection will become a vital link.
Be sure to create new connections as well as nurture already established connections, but also use this time to re-connect with “dormant ties.” This is when those old business cards will come in super handy! “Dormant ties” are people that you know, but have not spoken to in years (tsk tsk!). This could be someone you interned with five years ago or briefly met at a conference a few years earlier.
These “dormant ties” could be the greatest asset to your networking arsenal. This connection will typically travel in a slightly different circle than you, allowing you to broaden your scope and further your reach more easily. This person could be the link to help connect you to a potential employer that, without which, you would not have as good a shot for the position. Go through your virtual rolodex and update any old information.
Don’t be a Networking Sponge!
Finally, be sure you give back and are not just a networking leech. If you just take from your network without ever giving back, it will not grow or last long-term. People do not appreciate one-sided relationships and they can usually smell a freeloader from a mile away. This is where the previously mentioned authenticity and passion will become very important.
Demonstrate your drive, but be sure to always remember who helped you along the way and be sure to not only pay it forward, but also pay it back. By giving to those in your network, you will find people that will look out for your best interest long-term.
Erin Schwind is the United States Sports Academy’s Coordinator of Alumni Affairs and an Admissions Counselor. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.