One of our goals for this blog is to keep other athletic directors and coaches from making the same mistakes that we did, and one of my biggest areas of regret is in networking. While I am still young enough to catch up, it pains me to see guys younger or less experienced than me with better connections and bigger platforms. I’m excited for them, but it reminds me that I kind of missed the boat. Networking is a vital part of our profession. Here is some practical advice for getting and staying connected.
1) Start Early
Ideally, those who plan to go into coaching or athletics should start networking in college, or even sooner.
If you are still in college, identify your peers. Build relationships with them. Get to know your teachers, especially the ones that teach very specific classes.
Not only can they help you with job placement, but they are good resources to draw from throughout your career.
An internship in your field or a manager’s position with your school team can be extremely valuable. Remember that others will probably be competing for those same positions, so keep an eye out of any opportunity and jump at it.
2) Social Media
Social media can be tricky, but also beneficial.
Unfortunately, too many athletic directors and coaches are scared away by the first adjective.
Regardless, you need to jump in, join the conversation, and put yourself out there. You never know who you’ll connect with and what mutual relationships you’ll forge.
Currently,Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn are the main venues for this sort of beneficial professional connection.
Even if you don’t want to connect with others (which, if that’s the case, why are you reading this post?), Twitter can keep you up to date on opportunities, trends, and developments in your field if you follow the right people and organizations.
Using professional social media will help direct you to professional contacts that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
3) Face to Face
This is the old school, back-to-the basics method of networking
As a young coach, I went to Ron Bishop’s Mentoring Coaches Conference in Atlanta. I learned about it through a random flyer I got in the mail. Since it cost only $75 and just a few miles from my house, I decided to attend. As it turned out, this was Bishop’s first and only Mentoring Coaches Conference, and attendance was low.
However, because of his platform and ministry, that audience was made up of the “who’s who” of NCCAA and NAIA coaches — and I had unlimited access to all of them. I was beside myself and gained some valuable insight from these great coaches.
The point of the story is this: take advantage of whatever face-to-face time that you can with other people in your profession.
Not all of us are outgoing people (I’m not), so this can be a challenge, but it is worth the effort.
Don’t dread your league meetings; use them to build your network.
Sign up for clinics and conferences. Everyone at these functions is there to take their career to the next level and help others do the same. Take advantage of that.
For hundreds of years networking has been done face to face, and it still works wonders today.
4) Compliment the Success of Others
Athletics are not necessarily a zero-sum game. Too often, coaches and athletic directors view other schools and teams as the enemy. Christian schools can be guilty of trying to carve out our own little empires (which is not Biblical, by the way).
We can model Christian fellowship to our teams and department by genuinely enjoying the success of our brothers and sisters.
Whether you see them as your inferiors, peers, or heroes, let other coaches and schools know that you’re excited for their progress and victories.
Yeah, you’ll still have some rivalries and hard feelings from time to time. But don’t shut out those who you may be in a position to help (and those who may be able to help you).
This will help you develop your network and forge meaningful relationships with your opponents as well.
5) Provide Value
As important as networking is, you don’t want to be a leech. Don’t go into every opportunity with the what’s-in-it-for-me mindset.
Contribute something to the relationship. If you’re emailing college coaches and asking for advice or plays, you can reciprocate by volunteering to work at their summer camps. Offer your teams to help demonstrate at clinics.
Bottom line: don’t just take out of your network; put in, too.
6) Don’t be Scared
For some of us, the idea of putting yourself out there is scary. Don’t let it intimidate you. For the most part, other athletic directors and coaches are helpful people.
I once sat across the aisle from a prominent NAIA coach at Chick-fil-A during the lunch break of a clinic. I was too scared to talk to him. Finally, he looked at my team polo and asked if I was attending the clinic in town. I replied yes, and we spent the rest of the lunch hour talking. Later, I emailed him to ask if he would speak at a small summer camp I was doing. Not only did he come down, but he brought a few of his college players and really enhanced the atmosphere of our camp. He went above and beyond.
I got lucky in that situation because I had decided not to put myself out there. He illustrated an important quality of a veteran coach as well. He looked out for the interests of a younger coach in a smaller program.
Don’t be scared to connect. You’ll never know what will come of it.
The guys at the Hardwood Hustle podcast recently released an episode with social media expert Alex Cervasio. In this episode they discuss the benefits of social media for coaches. Check it out.
What other ways would you recommend building your network?