Ahead of the Game – Forming Great Professional Relationships

Ahead Of The Game: Forming Professional Relationships Through Sports


At just under 5’3”, you may be surprised to find me every Wednesday at the rec centre basketball courts “dominating” a game of pick-up with 6’2”+ colleagues from across campus.

When I first started playing about three years ago, my most recent experience had been when I was on the Grade 8 team.  At that time, I was tall but not particularly skilled.

Since then I have not actually grown; so, I am now short and still not particularly skilled.

Then why on earth when a couple of the guys from my office asked me if I wanted to play did I agree?

According to the Harvard Business Review, “High-stakes activities that ally you with disparate individuals around a common point of interest are the best way to forge tight connections. Whether you join people in sports teams, community service ventures, or interdepartmental initiatives, engaging with them in this new way creates stronger ties.”

It didn’t matter if, in the first few months, I couldn’t stop laughing every time I ran down the court with the ball because, not only was I getting a great workout, I was demonstrating that I was a team player.

I would show up, work hard and, even if I couldn’t get a basket, I could intimidate the other team with my witty and well-timed trash talking.

Although for probably the first year my main role was comic relief, I have now progressed to the point where I can hold my own and, on the odd occasion, be a decent contributor to the team.

While I am not likely to be scouted by the WMBA any time soon, this activity has certainly been positive for my career because I have gotten to know, respect and enjoy a lot of people at the university where I work that I would otherwise not had much interaction with.

The formation of these relationships happens “because these conditions allow for unscripted behaviours and natural responses to unexpected events — things that rarely show up during business lunches or office meetings where impressions are managed and presentations are carefully rehearsed. People will see you as you truly are, and vice versa. Common activities also offer opportunities for celebration and commiseration, which generate loyalty and form close working relationships.” (Strengthen Your Network with Shared Activities)

When I see my b-ball colleagues on campus, there is a common bond – a friendship and a warmth that I feel – that makes me think well of them and them think well of me.

The one surprising and concerning thing that I have noticed over the course of three years of playing a pick-up sport on my lunch is that there is only one other woman that I have ever seen out there.

If young women don’t take these opportunities to connect with colleagues in this fun and critical way, they will be missing out on a foundational aspect of business networking.

Since January is a time when people make all sorts of resolutions to get active, I challenge you to take it to the courts – or fields, or rinks – with your colleagues.  You will all be healthier and more successful for it.

No skill is required – just come see me play and I will prove it.

Photo credit: derrickcollins

About the author

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Career Development and Community Based Learning at Huron University College at Western University in London, Ont. She oversees the international exchange and internship programs, offers career counseling and development appointments and workshops, and has developed and implemented a co-curricular certificate in Leadership and Professional Development. Clare holds a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature and has over 10 years of experience in the communications sector and post-secondary administration.