“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I tell the senior level athletics professional.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love the recognition, but how did you guys even hear about me? I mean, I usually prefer to lay low. It’s my philosophy that the attention and recognition should go toward the student-athletes.”
“When you do great work, people tend to notice,” I respond. “But if you want my honest opinion, you should be a little more open. You have a lot of talent, and if people don’t know about it, you’ll never get the opportunities you should.”
“I guess I never really thought of it that way.”
This conversation has been in the back of my mind for quite a while now because it helped define my view of the modern college sports professional. I don’t know if it’s the basis in sports or the small community-like nature of this business, but more often than not I find the professionals, the ones who really make their programs better, are team players. Almost to a fault.
Putting the athlete first. Putting the team first. It’s the sign of a true believer, a romantic. This is the calling card of someone who truly wants to make an impact by helping people achieve their dreams.
It’s also a sure way to miss out on your own dreams.
Self-promotion feels like a dirty word, but the reality is that you owe it, not just to yourself, but to your peers to occasionally say, “look at the great work I am doing over here.” It doesn’t have to be brazen or shameless. There are ways to go about self-promotion with tact, and if done right, people will notice.
Make it Constructive
We’d be fools to think that we are the best at everything we do. To be honest, we’re all just figuring it out along the way. But I’de be willing to guarantee that what you’ve figured out could be valuable to someone else in your peer group. That isn’t to say you need to give away trade secrets, but college athletics benefits as a whole by copying and modifying techniques used by others. Even if you think something is common knowledge in your department or conference, share it with the community and watch the gratitude swell.
Networking Isn’t Just For References
You stand in a crowded convention hall full of people you don’t know and debate with yourself, “am I really the networking type?” It seems so foolish that some random person who happened to be at the hors d’oeuvre table the same time as you could in any way benefit your career, but you would be surprised. I can’t tell you how many wonderful relationships have started over a simple joke about a long-winded speaker or a quip about the temperature in the room. The trick is to go into each interaction without expectations beyond, “who is this person?” It’s an odd paradox that effective self-promotion can be achieved without actually talking much about yourself. Genuine attention and interest is the greatest form of self-promotion there is because the person who you share your attention with will almost always leave with a higher opinion of you.
But the real key to converting chance encounters to relationships is follow through. A simple email expressing your pleasure meeting them and showing interest in their career is all it takes to make an ally for life. Whether they are an athletic director or equipment manager, allies are always valuable because they are always in your corner.
Speak Often and Loudly About Your Team
“We,” should be your favorite word, because only a fool would take credit for a team’s efforts. No matter how small your department or how much individual effort you put forth, nothing accomplished in college athletics is accomplished alone. “We did it,” and when you say “we,” people hear “my team and I.” Speaking, especially on the behalf of a group, is reserved for leaders. For better or worse, you’ll get credit for the successes or failures of the team, and in turn, you’ll be seen by people looking for leaders for their teams.
What’s important here though, is that you are promoting your team first and foremost. By sitting quietly and letting their actions speak for themselves, you aren’t giving them the attention they deserve. Good, solid self-promotion happens incidentally when you are doing great work. When you step outside of your comfort zone and shine a light on your own team, some of that light inevitably gets reflected back at you.
Matthew Monte is Managing Editor of College AD and formerly Co-Managing Editor of Underdog Dynasty. He is a graduate of The B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at UL Lafayette, mostly because it didn't require a foreign language. Matt is also a recovering stand up comedian who occasionally relapses.