By Dr. Tim Rice
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network
I have had numerous networking moments over the last 25 years as I climbed the ladder in this profession. In fact, one such connection that I made 24 years ago at a summer camp in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York has given me the opportunity to consult with him for two months this fall in Galway, Ireland. I also landed a job as a head college basketball coach at a Division III school once because of having a connection at that school…and beat 250 other applicants for the job. I have found that networking with the right people in sport can open doors that can change your career and your life.
I am asked this question by students often: How do you network effectively? Schwind (2013) offered a good article that had three ways to network: Direct Networking; Informational Networking; and Power Networking. The article in its entirety can be found here.
This made me think to ask several current sport professionals what their advice would be for the up and coming sport manager. My questions for them: What are the most important tips for networking to build your career in sport? What has your experience been so far in your career?
Keri Alexander Luchowski is the Executive Director of the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC), one of the most well-respected collegiate athletic conferences at any level in the U.S. She offered these seven networking tips for the aspiring sport professional: Be natural, Be yourself; Don’t collect acquaintances; Look to build relationships; Don’t be afraid to tap other people for introductions; Be curious about the other person; Offer something to others – this isn’t a one-way street; and Follow-up.
“My network has grown out of commonality: something I share with the other person. I try to be as helpful to others as I can. When my first contact with someone is because I need something, I always try to be as polite and professional as possible. I also always follow up – even if it’s just a simple thank you for the assistance. I think that over the course of a career, we will have many people enter our lives. Some will pass through briefly, for one specific moment or need, others will stay around longer. We will all have people in our professional lives who run the gamut from name recognition to acquaintance to colleague to friend. The goal should be to develop those relationships to the fullest, no matter where they fall on that spectrum. It should not be to see who has the biggest list of names,” said Luchowski, who has been with the NCAC, a conference made up of NCAA Division III academically elite colleges and universities, for 16 years. She added, “Ultimately, I would say that I always try to be kind and helpful. You never know the impression you make on someone that may be able to help you in the future.”
Taylor Evans, the account director for the Austin Sports Commission in Austin, Texas, is directly responsible for bringing sporting events to a growing and city that loves sport. “My career and specifically its growth have been built upon the value of networking. Every step of the way my network has been there to support me and guide me within whatever my current role was, as well as toward the next opportunity,” said Evans.
Evans added these very important tips: “One of the most important pieces of advice that I was given and always share is your network is your net worth. If you are completely relying on job posting websites for new roles and cold calls for new business, you are going to set yourself up for a lot of headaches. So, get out there and shake as many hands as possible. Be genuine in your follow ups. Give more than you ask. The more authentic you can be, the better off you will be!”
Todd Rutledge currently works in Facility Operations at Harvard University and has served at past Olympic Games, as well. He gave his take on networking in sport and the importance of cultivation of connections. “The concept of networking is built upon the development of sincere personal relationships that endure time and distance, similar to the lifelong friendships you fostered as a child. However, in the professional realm, it requires additional maintenance and upkeep as the experiences were not quite as life altering or memorable,” stated Rutledge.
He added, “While I have established a few great relationships with former colleagues, only recently have I recognized the power of a quick note or phone call to catch up and reconnect. Even with the power of social media or email/text we often do not make the time to reach out to those who have impacted our careers in a positive manner.”
Michael Dowling, the owner of MD Marketing, LLC, a sports and apparel business based in St. Peters, Missouri that supplies numerous professional and collegiate teams, had this to say about networking in the sport industry: “I grew the business by networking with the players I grew up with and in 2004 went full-time with my business. I was lucky to have grown-up within a great circle of friends that all played on some type of sports team. Working through my network of former players and coaches, I now have direct contact to the owners of a MLB and NHL team. I also have direct contact with the head coach of a NFL team.”
Dowling also added that a great way to gain contacts is to do volunteer work. “This can open many other doors that you might otherwise over look. My volunteer work allowed me to meet contacts in the sports marketing departments of Coors Light and Bud Light. Those are not easy corporate brands that everyone can call a client, but I do now.”
Dowling’s greatest reward through networking came last winter when he was offered the chance to take part as a guest of the US Olympic Committee (USOC) in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “Sport is a very small community and the people that work within its circles either on a part-time or full time basis are the nicest people you will meet. Be sincere and you will find someone to help with your networking,” said Dowling.
Nate Miklos is the head women’s golf coach at Youngstown State University and is a veteran NCAA Division I golf coach who got his coaching and sport career off the ground at the NCAA Division III level as a volunteer. He offered this on networking, “I think it’s important to establish good relationships with fellow coaches, administrators and staff. Your experience and expertise will usually land you the job but often it’s because of networking that gets you the opportunity. You never know when networking will help you be successful so keep working on building those relationships.”
In fact, he landed his current job at Youngstown State because of networking. “Networking is a big reason I am at my current position of head women’s golf coach at YSU. I had established some good relationships and when the job came open an assistant AD at my previous school called and put in a great recommendation for me. Ultimately, it was my experience and knowledge that landed me the position, but I know that phone call made a big impact on me getting an initial interview and started me with a big edge over my competition,” said Miklos.
James DeMeo is the Founder, President & CEO of Unified Sports & Entertainment Security Consulting, LLC, based in Cedar Park, Texas, a suburb of Austin. He offered these tips for networking to build your sport career: Truly believe in yourself and your abilities in achieving success; Absolutely, unequivocally, no fear whatsoever-fear of failure, rejection; Create value in someone other than yourself first; Be humble, thankful, appreciative, and respectful of the other’s person’s time, talents, energies and network; Read, Research, Blog, Read, Read, and then Read some more; and lastly Knowledge is Power. Never stop learning. Education is a lifelong process. In order for you to make an impact you have to be “intellectually in the game.”
DeMeo also shared this about networking: “I am a second career professional following my true passion for Sports Security. I have attained success because I realize that I can’t do this alone; I need to build a coalition to help support my goals. I have prided myself in understanding that real confidence comes from knowing that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. A true sign of intelligence is surrounding yourself with folks that are smarter than you are. Any good leader aligns themselves with experts in many disciplines. I give back as often as possible because I am blessed to have a strong network that believes in me and supports what I stand for.
Damond Talbot is the owner and founder of NFL Draft Diamonds, a website that offers up-to-date insight on the NFL Draft and also offers NFL scouts detailed information on small college football players that have been missed in the search for talent, like Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler. He had these tips for networking, “You have to be willing to talk to people who have had experience in the field you are hoping to work.” Talbot also added this about the use of social media: “Social Media is an amazing tool, because you can grow and meet many people. By doing interviews with other people in my field, I met them and actually learned from them.” He also stated these tips about the industry: “I learned there are a lot of good people in the sports industry and the industry is very small. Everyone knows everyone, so do not burn a bridge, because it can come back to bite you. My experience has been amazing. I have had several people over my career path that have helped me quite a bit and, to be honest, without them I would not be where I am today.”
Veronica Guzik works as a sales manager for iFLY Austin Indoor Skydiving in Austin, Texas. She had this to add about being intentional in networking: “My biggest tip for networking is to have an honest “intent” when making connections and starting conversations. Honesty and transparency go a long way in creating strong professional relationships, whereas ulterior motives can quickly turn a conversation sour, and ruin a chance at a relationship. In short, always be yourself and always make your intent clear, you’ll stay focused toward your goal and let those you work with better understand your mission.”
George Perry is the Managing Director at Lane9.co and the Director of the Austin (TX) Track Club, L3C . He had this advice for anyone who wants to build a network in sport: “The point of networking is not to get a job or close a deal – it’s to put yourself in a better position to do those things down the road. Don’t limit yourself to events or people in your specific industry or niche, and don’t focus only on talking to the ‘power players’ in the room. Expand your network in all directions so when the time comes to make things happen your connections have you covered.”
Chris Corbett is the owner and founder of Austin (TX) Youth Basketball and is also involved in numerous sport-related ventures including www.coachtube.com, a new website that offers sport instruction online. He had some interesting things to share about his view of networking, what he looks for from potential partners in sport, and areas that he would still like to improve: “I would say that I genuinely like to help people grow, I am pretty candid about my ability (and agenda, when I rarely have one). I typically only make time for helping people I view as trustworthy and who have values I admire. That takes a priority over “what’s in it for me.” So while I like to be validated by successful people who can help me further an idea, I equally like helping someone who can never repay me. I don’t keep score and often don’t have an “ask.” I doubt if there has ever been a formula written in books for successful networking. It has, however, served me well and hopefully the people I come in contact with. As I get older, I definitely think I would like to grow in listening skills and support of friends and staying in touch.”
To close, you probably might be wondering what my advice would be? Here are my suggestions:
Much like Schwind (2013) stated, I think scheduling a visit with a sport professional to ask what they did to become successful and being willing to ask a lot of questions is important. I also agree with Schwind (2013) about going to conferences that relate to the field you want to be in and joining associations that relate to your area of expertise. Having business cards is another thing that you should always have with you. Additionally, collect business cards from anyone you might have developed a connection with and do not throw them away.
One area that I think is important is to keep learning by reading up-to-date literature in your area of interest. This can help you communicate effectively with a potential employer. I also think developing a short elevator pitch to sell yourself in 45 seconds can do wonders for your opportunities. Lastly, remember that presentation is very important in this field and always write hand-written thank you cards to send after meeting someone that can help you climb the ladder in the field.
Being bold and showing initiative can make or break your opportunity. Best wishes as you look to your future. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this important aspect of the profession.
Schwind, E. (2013, September 17). Top three tips for networking in sports profession. The Sports Digest. Retrieved from http://thesportdigest.com/2013/09/top-three-tips-for-networking-in-sports-profession/