“Effective networking accounts for an estimated 70% of all job offers!”
With this one stat, published in a report by The Career Experts and cited in Forbes Magazine, we can immediately see the power of networking. Surely then, effective networking for athletes is a vital skill to learn?
Networking is not something that comes easy to some people, with the idea of approaching people they do not know well, if at all, an excruciating experience.
For athletes, in particular, networking out of their chosen fields can be a daunting experience and one which can completely remove them from their comfort zone.
However, it is vital and has huge potential in helping an athlete pursue both their athletic (sponsorship, funding, different athletic approaches) and non-athletic (work experience, internships, jobs) careers.
The elephant in the room
In my previous position back in the UK, I helped launch and develop the Life After Rugby Program for The Rugby Business Network, the brainchild of Colm Hannon. Given that the whole basis for developing the program was based around a business network, networking and attending networking events was going to be a huge portion of helping the rugby players learn, explore and be successful in their career explorations and transition.
What we found initially was that these players knew they had a lot of people in their network, they just weren’t sure how to engage them or approach them appropriately.
At RBN events the attendees are required to ask only one thing of other attendees – “How can I help you?” – a fantastic initiative and starting point. But if a player was unable to answer this properly and articulate what it is that wanted to do and how their skills related to this, then it is a wasted opportunity. Staring at your feet or hiding in the corner waiting for someone to approach you and make all your dreams come true, is probably not going to happen.
They could be the biggest people in the room, the elephant if you will, but run the risk of not utilising the position they were in. Just like they would for any game, the players needed to prepare and not go in underdone.
Of course, as part of the Program, we would prep them for events, to ensure that situations like this were avoided and the players knew how to make the most of meetings and events.
Sport opens doors; however, if you don’t know which door to walk through, it can be extremely difficult to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.
Being able to effectively articulate what it is you are trying to achieve, what you would like to do in your career and how your transferable skills translate to your chosen career path, will go a long way to ensuring that the people you encounter, connect with and network with, know exactly how they can help you.
Suddenly the right door becomes very clear.
Athletes talking to athletes
The same applies to intra-athlete networking events.
Exposure to how other athletes operate and how they approach their careers, both in and out of sport, will help in understanding how different people go about their work, outside of what can be the bubble of not just professional sport, but their specific professional sport.
Seeing all events – competitions, parties, presentations, seminars, workshops, meetings, conferences – as a networking opportunity will help improve and enlarge your network, build relationships and provide the ability to exchange and share information.
Remember, it may not be the person you are talking to that can help you, but they may know someone who can. It is an exercise in relationship management, not sales. Engaging with the people you talk to will show that you are genuinely interested in them and not just asking something of them.
The same goes for the people that approach the athletes; it needs to be determined if they are actually interested in helping them or just a ‘jumper puller’ who is there to take advantage of the athlete’s status or standing for their own benefit. If they take a genuine interest in the athlete as a person, not just as an athlete, it is more likely that they would be willing to help and not just take from them.
Many sporting organisations at all levels (university, club, elite) are now realising the power of their networks and specifically, connecting with alumni; powerful, engaged and relevant networks that link the current generation within the sporting organisation with those that have gone before, whether it’s ex-players, coaches, sponsors or fans.
From our discussions and research at The Final Whistle, sponsors and alumni are looking at ways that they can help, but aren’t sure how, while sporting organisations are seeking help for their athletes, but aren’t sure of the best way to build the bridge to their alumni.
Creating specific alumni networks can help match current athletes, based off their needs, to specific sponsors and alumni, helping to build that bridge and create better outcomes for all involved. Providing the athlete with the opportunity to effectively network, knowing there is an immediate connection and interest can ultimately lead to greater engagement with many of the stakeholders of the sporting organisation.
This only further highlights the necessity of athletes to be able to articulate their skills and interests, so as to have the confidence to do so and not hide away when opportunities present themselves.
Additionally, it allows current athletes to learn from those that have previously been in their position; people who understand what they are experiencing, share what they potentially may experience going forward, and even mentor the athletes.
Less is not more
Networking, love it or loathe it, is a vitally important part of an athlete’s career. It can lead to better outcomes both during and after their sporting career.
Former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden said recently, “You don’t get better at something by doing less of it” and networking is no different. As the stats show, networking leads to opportunity, therefore, those athletes who network more, will have more extensive social and professional networks leading to greater opportunities across a broader range of careers, and ultimately the potential for more successful outcomes in life.
It’s a no-brainer!