Many offices are about to hold their end-of-summer athletic events. I dread these events almost as much as the end of summer itself. So many questions fill my mind. First the superficial: what do I wear, do I want to see my colleagues (or be seen) in whatever athletic attire is required, will I feel objectified if I have to wear a tennis skirt in front of my male colleagues? Let’s just say I prefer to exercise alone and I wonder whether can I pull off swinging and missing a dozen times at the annual golf scramble and still command respect at the office. But, more important is the pressing question of whether I will miss out on important networking opportunities if I say no.
We all know that a company’s annual golf scramble is about a lot more than getting the ball in the hole, but how do you put aside your awkwardness (and, in my case, clumsiness) and take advantage of the chance to build social relationships outside the office. If you plan to stay at your employer for a while, if this is the way everyone in your industry networks, or if there are simply no other way to socialize with your colleagues besides these events, it’s probably best to give it a try. Here are a few ideas.
- Grin and bear it. If your skills aren’t so hot, remember that everyone is in the same boat. Even if you’re in an office of scratch golfers, swallow your pride and consider the potential benefits of taking part in these events. They provide an opportunity in a more relaxed atmosphere to socialize with your manager and colleagues. In the less formal setting of the tennis court you may not only bond with your coworkers, but you might also hear of new projects or positions opening in other areas of your company. I love multitasking!
- My working mom friends are nothing if not prepared. Sign up for a few lessons in advance of the event. Choose one or two key aspects of the game and try to at least become proficient at it. To avoid looking like a total newbie, go to Wikipedia to learn the basic terminology, how scoring works, and what equipment you should rent or buy before the event.
- Humor helps when all else fails. Trust me on this. I was the only female associate in my department and I still get palpitations remembering how I struggled to get my ball out of the sand at an office golf outing years ago. Without even looking at them, I knew the rest of my male foursome reached their breaking point. To salvage any remaining dignity, I picked up my ball and remarked how it took Babe Ruth years to reach 1,000 hits and only one day of golf for me. I quickly moved everyone on to the next hole and hoped they would forget the whole thing.
- Take one for the team. If you’re new at the sport, be up front about it. You can offer to go first. This worked for me. I drove my ball first so that the rest of my team could see how it rolled along the fairway. That helped them save face in front of our supervisor when it was their turn.
- Meet at the 19th hole (aka clubhouse bar). If you really can’t get over your self-consciousness or if you think you’ll be relegated to the sidelines back at the office if your skills aren’t up to par, find another way to participate. Offer to meet everyone for drinks after the game, help with registration, or drive the beer cart. You can even take along a more experienced golfer who can help with etiquette.
Intimidation and fear of embarrassment hold many women back from taking part in at-work athletic events. The business benefits of participating in these events, sometimes where important decisions are made, means that excluding yourself can do you a disservice. You can take the game seriously even if you don’t take yourself seriously. Coming in with a good attitude is the true sign of a team player, in and out of the office.