By Sergio Santamaria

We’ve all heard it before: the arduous path to a successful job in sports seems to always boil down to a strong sports network of industry peers and professionals.

Some preach for an aggressive, encompassing approach: ‘Put yourself in front of as many people as possible, meet everyone you can, and eventually an introduction will lead to an opportunity.’ Others advocate toward involved, meaningful relationships: ‘Pursue a few extremely strong connections with those whom you’re confident can help you reach that next stepping stone somewhere down the line.’

As a college student, with wide eyes and even wider career aspirations, it can be difficult to decide how to approach networking in the sports industry. I, along with most, would absolutely concede there to be value in both networking strategies. However, from recent relationships I’ve built and connections I’ve made, I’ve developed a feel for what I believe a fruitful, worthwhile network should feel like: a village.

How to Be a Great Villager

There are countless different versions of actual and metaphorical villages, but all versions have certain characteristics shared by every contributing villager: servanthood and reliability. Of course, there are absolutely no requirements or benchmarks implemented to deem a professional network akin to a village.

Interestingly, to me, the immeasurable nature of a strong sports network simply involves a dedication to the most selfless and hardworking principles of being human. Quite simply, in my experiences thus far, keeping others’ best interests at heart and treating every peer as one would like to be treated applies flawlessly to contributing professionally and developing a career.

I have never been an outgoing, fearless networker and do not expect to ever be one. Due to incredibly impactful and invaluable leadership from my mentors over the last few years, though, I have seen the value in taking one simple piece of advice to heart. Every day at work, in class, or on the phone, I strive to consistently make the life of my counterparts easier. I strive to become a valuable villager.

Village Networking in Action

On the other side of things, the practical importance of serving others professionally cannot be overstated. Although still a part of the program and far from an established name in an NBA front office — as I one day aspire to be — I owe the world to the Department of Sport Management at Rice University for creating a bridge for me into Houston Rockets Basketball Operations as a 17-year-old college kid with no previous work experience.

As a result, I have an innate (and necessary, in my opinion) desire to give back to the Department. I actively recruit new students to the program and lead an organization on campus, Rice Sport Business Society, whose mission includes the enhancement of the prestige and value of a Sport Management degree at Rice. Transitionally, my hope is to create those same bridges into my current or previous experiences for those who have made my life easier or have treated me valuably. I hope to remain a valuable villager.

I absolutely cannot say I know exactly how many connections to pursue or what specific relationships to seek out. Heck, I’m a junior in college. I can’t even tell you what college cafeteria I’ll be eating in on Friday. I do consider myself a respectful and tenacious worker, though — a servant and reliable villager. I truly seek to keep in mind the best interests of people I’m lucky enough to meet, those I’m thrilled to help out, and everyone in between.

My village is all about reciprocation and dualism — treat everyone as you’d like to be treated, whether helping or being helped. After all: it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a Village Network to raise a career.

Sergio Santamaria is a 20-year old Junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas studying Sport Management and Data Science. He hails from Bogotá, Colombia and has worked as a student intern in Houston Rockets Basketball Operations since 2014. He leads Rice Sport Business Society on campus and hopes to one day be an NBA General Manager. He is reachable at [email protected]