The crowd speaks at a low hum. People share laughs and handshakes. You’re at your first sports networking event, and you spot a few people you want to meet.
When you approach someone, you only have a few minutes to capitalize on an amazing opportunity. You’re not just here to get offers for sports jobs; you’re networking to establish long-lasting, meaningful professional relationships.
These initial conversations are similar to a football team’s final drive in the two-minute warning during a close game. Coaches tend to run a hurry-up offense, using a clock management strategy called the two-minute drill.
The two-minute drill limits huddles and emphasizes plays aimed at stopping the game clock. Because time is precious when initiating a conversation with a connection, you need to adopt this two-minute drill mindset.
Here’s how you can run a two-minute drill while networking:
One Down at a Time
When it comes to sports networking, a lot of people feel intimidated. Approaching strangers you don’t know in a professional setting can be stressful, and unfortunately, this deters a lot of professionals.
In fact, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the University of Phoenix School of Business, 53 percent of working adults and job seekers do very little or no networking, even though 89 percent of working adults and job seekers believe networking is beneficial.
What’s worse, 27 percent of people who think they don’t do enough networking say they think they have lost job opportunities, as a result.
Instead of seeing sports networking as a big uncomfortable task, adopt a positive mindset and focus on one person and one small, achievable goal at a time. Before you target specific people, set mini-goals so you stay motivated.
When you experience success, you get a boost of dopamine, which aligns with learning, pleasure, and motivation. So, instead of thinking about a sports networking event or a simple conversation as a big stressor, break it up into actionable goals you can achieve.
Better yet, make a game out of it. Acknowledge each step as an achievement, and give yourself points throughout a networking event. You get one point for arriving, two points for every handshake, three points for each business card, and four points for scheduling a follow-up.
For the conversation, give yourself a series of clear goals. Introduce yourself. Ask about a project. Share an anecdote.
This way, you’re laser-focused on one person and one clear, small goal at a time. Keep the momentum of progress going, just as a football team drives to the end-zone, one down at a time.
Control the Clock
A great quarterback knows how to manage a hurry-up offense and coordinates with the coach to plan plays that stop the game clock. In other words, they control the time — and you should, too.
When you start a networking conversation, you want to achieve your goals and not lose the other person’s attention. Don’t be rude and hold people for too long, but establish what you want to say and ask for a moment of their time.
Be upfront and honest with them. And set an expectation so they can agree to it. For example, if you plan on meeting a sports writer you admire, introduce yourself and ask if you can pick their brain on a recent piece they just published.
Avoid Flags on the Field
Flags always kill the momentum of a drive down the field. Similarly, you may botch a networking opportunity if you commit a penalty.
One of the biggest penalties is immediately asking for favors. This is why some stereotype networking as a slimy tactic — because too many people are out for themselves and their own personal gain.
This is not your goal. You are building relationships and establishing mutually beneficial connections. Instead of asking someone to help you, be proactive and show them how your value can benefit them. In turn, they will do the same. Reciprocity is what sports networking is built on.
Another common penalty is not actively listening. Many people will only listen with the intent of speaking. Dialogues require a back-and-forth, but that doesn’t permit interruptions.
Let each connection finish their thought before responding. Take a moment to acknowledge the information they conveyed, then add to their thought and share your opinion.
Throw a Hail Mary
When a football team is driving during the final seconds of the game, their goal is simple — score a touchdown. If you want a touchdown, you need to go for it.
As you’re conversing, think about the long-term goal. Your touchdown is establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with each person.
Before the clock runs out, throw your Hail Mary pass into the end-zone by asking for a follow-up and requesting their contact information.
Sports networking conversations are your best opportunity to get to know industry professionals on a personal level. Use your time with your connections to build a rapport and prove your value.