The sporting world abounds this time of year, and I’m deep into it.
The baseball season is underway and it’s the intoxicating time of NHL and NBA playoffs (in which my home teams, from Philadephia, are represented). Two days ago I was in New York, presenting to a group of 300 executives at ESPN’s Women’s Leadership Conference, yesterday in Philadelphia I spoke at a meeting of National Basketball Association executives, and last month I worked with NFL players in a joint NFL/Wharton executive program. Sports and the business of sports are on my mind.
And sports are in my heart, not just for the desperate yearning to see my teams prevail against the odds, but for the language of connection with important people in my life that sports provides. For many people, the world of sports and its infinitely fascinating swirl of action–heroes and villains, glory and ignominy–is the occasion for conversation, the very stuff of relationships.
Some years back it became clear to me that I needed to spend more time with one of my children, whose explosion into adolescence compelled more of my regular attention. Thus we began a ritual of watching sporting events almost every night, some in person, but most on TV. Being fans together has for us, as for millions of parents and children around the world, been a primary means of connecting. In the intersticial spaces between our ongoing commentary about the players and their feats, we find moments to talk about other things we share in our lives: our hopes, our fears. I’m truly grateful for the opportunities these moments create for me to do my fatherly part.
Of course the same thing happens at work. Sports talk is so much the material of connection among people striving to get things done in companies, in communities. For the sports business, grasping the power of this valuable social function–athletic teams are the glue that binds so many of us–means organizing the structure of sporting events and media surrounding them to support this function. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen enough.
I remember going to baseball games as a kid in NYC when the only thing you heard between batters and innings was the conversation surrounding you and a gentle, lilting organ in the background. People talked. We connected with strangers, feeling like we belonged to something bigger than ourselves.
How has your experience of sports helped you to feel closer to the people and communities you love? What do you think organizations can do to tap into this powerful source of connection–to enrich lives and improve performance?
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