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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Survive At-Work Athletic Events (When You're Not Athletic)

Good morning Molly,

I have an awkward office situation I could use some help with. I'm not very athletic, but I somehow volunteered for an athletic-ish networking event at a bowling alley with my department at work. I don't really bowl—and I barely know how to handle networking events that are just conversation! Thanks so much, Molly.


Hi K,

I totally get it: Workplace-centered athletic events can seem pretty overwhelming, as they involve both the awkwardness of networking in a business setting and the awkwardness of trying a sport in front of other people. It’s kind of like having gym class with your teachers!

That said, you’ll definitely get through it—and you can even impress your boss and co-workers in the meantime. Here are some tips to help make the experience a little smoother.

Do Your Research

Whether it’s bowling, golf, softball, or whatever, head to Wikipedia and do a little background research on the sport beforehand. Get a rough idea of some terms to be familiar with (how scoring works, how many players on a team) and a general overview of how the game works. Even if you’ve never played before, it’s a good idea to go in semi-prepared for what you’ll be facing.

If possible, you could even try getting in a practice round before the main event with some friends. This works especially well for the sport you’re trying, bowling. Could be a fun night!

Bring the Right Gear

For any type of athletic event you’re not familiar with, you should find out ahead of time what you should wear and if there’s any gear you need to buy, rent, or bring. Either ask a co-worker who’s been to the event before, or simply call the place, explain you're attending an event there, and ask what they recommend you wear. (Hint: Nothing says “rookie” like showing up to the bowling alley without socks.)

Announce Your Beginner Status

Don’t be afraid to be upfront that you’re a total beginner at the sport, both when you’re signing up and when you get to the event. Saying things like, "I'd love to join, if you don't mind a beginner!" or "I’m so excited for the 5K today—it's my first timed race!" lets others know you’re excited about the event and want to do some team-bonding with your co-workers, but that you might need a little extra support.

Also, keep in mind that in general, office sporting events aren’t really super-competitive or about who’s ready to go pro—they’re about everyone trying their best and getting a chance to do some out-of-office bonding and networking.

Take the Game Seriously—Not Yourself

That said, keep in mind that you might be playing with others who are seriously into the sport—so, being light-hearted about the game won't exactly be amusing to them. Take the game seriously, but laugh at yourself.

Be Social—and OK With Silence

Besides having fun learning a new sport, the real purpose of these athletic events is to build relationships with your team. Out-of-office events are the place it’s okay to talk about subjects you probably don’t cover at work—like asking your boss if she played a sport in college or your colleagues what they do on the weekends. Feel free to dig deeper than the strictly-professional topics you cover in the office!

But also remember that some sports just involve more quiet time than others—like riding in the golf cart. It's okay to have a bit of awkward silence: Think of it as part of the game, not necessarily conversation time you have to fill.

Have a Good Attitude

The bottom line is, go in with a great attitude. A good teammate is a happy teammate, both in the office and in sports!

And so with that said, a final point: If you’re really not up for playing, consider being a team cheerleader instead. That way, you’ll be a team player and take part in the office event, but you won’t put yourself in a situation where you’re overly uncomfortable. And hey, you can still attend the after party and rehash the game’s highs and lows.

Hope that helps—get out there and bowl a strike!

Xoxo, Molly

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Photo of bowling courtesy of Shutterstock.