How to Build Strong Relationships

networking professional development Jan 10, 2022

Teamwork and relationships are so important in sports. From the support and guidance you receive from your coaches to the trust and authenticity you get from your teammates, having strong relationships with those around you is crucial to success.

You need to understand each other, support each other and most importantly, advocate for each other. So why do many people lose sight of the power of relationships when they step outside of the game? 

Relationships make the biggest impact in your life, period. They truly change the game. You don’t get jobs without relationships. You don’t get opportunities without relationships. You don’t get access without relationships. Yet so many people wait to build and maintain connections with those who can support their career journeys until they need to, and that’s not the way strong relationships are built. 

So how do you actually start building connections and a team of strong relationships around you? The keys here are time, authenticity and value-add. 

Let’s start with time. Building relationships does not happen overnight. You don’t just attend a networking event or go to a coffee meeting and consider it done. Relationships are built over time and have multiple touch points. It doesn’t always have to be face to face interactions.

You could send the connection an article that reminded you of the conversation you both had, or congratulate them on LinkedIn about a success they’ve achieved. You could reach out when you’ll be in town soon or ask to jump on the phone after a while to catch up. Strong relationships are not instantaneous, so start building them now. 

Next, let’s talk about authenticity. How many times have you gotten a LinkedIn message that says: “Hey, I love your profile, would love to chat.” Probably a lot, and you probably won't reply. Why? Because it’s not authentic. You have no idea who this person is, why they are reaching out and most importantly, why you came to their mind.

A much more effective message is one that reads something like this: “Hi Sarah, I am a student-athlete at ABC University. I saw you’re an alum and working in the digital marketing space, which is where I’d love to be after graduation. Do you have any time in the next few weeks for a call? I’d love to learn more about your work and your time in the industry.” No doubt Sarah will be excited to reply and take some time to share her story with you. She knows who you are, why you are reaching out, and why she came to your mind.

Authenticity is the most important part of building a strong relationship. If you aren’t yourself, if you don’t keep your word, or you reach out simply because you need something (like a job), you won’t be creating a strong relationship. Build connections that are genuine, first and foremost. Don’t connect with people for the sake of connecting. Do it because you are really interested in the work they do, or you share a similar experience.

Remember, these relationships are a two way street. These are the people who will hype you up when you aren’t in the room. You should do the same to them, and that includes valuing their time by giving them your authentic self.

Finally, let’s look at value-add. Many people don’t think about value-add and how important it is in a strong relationship. Again, these are mutually beneficial relationships. You might confuse value-add with the idea that you must constantly be adding value. But that’s not true. Not every relationship has an immediate or apparent value-add that you can bring to the table. Sometimes it’s just taking the time to learn from someone’s journey and being genuinely curious. Your connection may just enjoy the opportunity to share their story and get to know you. 

The best way to understand how to add value to your relationships is to simply ask that person directly. It’s as easy as being curious about what they’re working on, and asking if there is anything you can do to help. You’ll be surprised how far genuine interest, curiosity and offers to help can go. 

Strong relationships are the currency you’ll need to successfully grow and move into new chapters of your life. These people are your team in your post-sports journey. So start building your team outside of the game today. Think about who you want to create or build upon a relationship with. Maybe it’s a coach, a teammate, a front office member. Or, maybe it’s a sponsor, or someone who works for a specific company or in a specific industry.

Make a list of those people, and add next to each person the reason WHY you want to connect. Be clear on that “why” and then start to genuinely and authentically connect with these individuals. And don’t forget to keep in touch. 

The more time you put into building and maintaining strong and genuine relationships, the more likely you are to succeed in whatever is next. 


Want more resources to help you get ahead in what’s next? Check out our TWN Training Room. This is your tool to begin preparing for life after sports. With over 40 hours of content from athletes who have been there, it's time to start preparing for your next chapter, all at your own pace. Sign up today and start NOW!