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The Art of Networking: Applying Wisdom from Sports Legends

Updated: Mar 3

During my years of helping highly-motivated students begin and advance their careers, I’ve observed a common pattern as they develop their professional networks. After some gentle encouragement, they reach out to a handful of contacts and eagerly await responses. Some of my students get lucky with their early attempts and make quick connections. However, more often than not, their outreach is met with silence. Without instant success, many draw a disheartening conclusion: networking just doesn’t work.

Contrary to my usual advice against sports metaphors, I find comparing networking to playing sports particularly fitting.

The best baseball players in the history of the game have something in common: their batting average hovers around .300. For those not versed in baseball lingo, this means that even the greatest baseball players successfully hit the ball only about three times in every ten attempts.

“Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.” — Babe Ruth

Here’s the point: We should approach networking like a hall-of-fame batter. If we are successful at connecting with others 30% of the time, we can be world-class networkers. Both require persistence and an understanding that success often comes from a series of consistent, repeated efforts.

Persistence Pays Off

Initial setbacks are not indicators of future failure, they are actually stepping stones to mastery. Just as young players often strike out before they start hitting home runs, in networking, early attempts might not always yield success. However, with persistence, our abilities improve. Networking is a skill honed over time, through trial and error, and a lot of swings and misses. The key is to keep playing the game. Each interaction, each email, each event attended builds your skill and confidence.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

Jordan didn’t let missed shots hold him back; in networking, similarly, we should not let an unanswered email or unreturned call deter us. Each instance, like Jordan’s missed shots, is an opportunity to grow. It’s through these experiences we learn, refine our approach, and ultimately enhance our ability to connect effectively.

Cast a Wider Net

In networking, as in baseball, volume plays a crucial role. If a batter had only three chances to hit, their average might not be truly reflective of their skill. Similarly, if you only reach out to a handful of contacts, you’re not giving networking a fair chance. The more people you connect with, the higher your chances of finding those who will respond, engage, and potentially open doors to new opportunities.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretsky

In networking, this means embracing every opportunity to connect, knowing that each effort increases your chances of success.

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Just like in baseball, where a .300 average can lead to a celebrated career, a small percentage of positive responses in networking can open significant doors. The key is to cast your net wide and not be disheartened by the misses. With time and persistence, your networking skills, just like your batting average, will only get better.


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