HOW TO TALK ABOUT SPORTS AT THE OFFICE WITHOUT ACTUALLY WATCHING SPORTS
My non-sports-loving friend recently complained to me that he feels like he can't get involved in sports talk at the office. Then I thought about an old @Mary list, and thought a formal list on this would be helpful. Here is a list of tips to be taken separately or combined (although it would be faster to WATCH the game than do ALL of these).
- •Location, location, location...Depending on where you live, certain sports will dominate the conversation. You probably already know these teams. Make a list of these teams for: baseball, hockey, football (pro and college), and basketball (pro and college).
- •Then, download the ESPN ScoreCenter app and set these teams as your "favorites."You don't even have to set up the alerts for scoring plays or the end score - just having these teams as your "favorites" will allow you to check what the scores of any and all of these teams' games in one central location.
- •The time of year is important.January/early February: football post-season. Mid-April through June: hockey and basketball post-season. Late Summer through December: football season (everyone wants to talk about football always). Late September/October: baseball post-season.
- •Knowing the score of the game is 90% of the battle.If you're not the one initiating the conversation ever, people are probably not coming to you to go over the game in detail. They have other people they already do that with. But, when someone asks if you saw the game, you can make a comment about the score - "Close game!" "What a disappointment." "The defense looked great!" [if opponent didn't score much], etc.
- •Set a sports website as your homepage: I check ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and BleacherReport.com (which has "trending" and "lists"!! tabs). Browse these, or others, and pick one for your homepage.Even if you spend no time at all browsing, you'll be hit with headlines. Take a minute or so each morning to run through the sports news of the day, which is sometimes a non-game event, like a contract signing. Plus, if this automatically pops up on your screen, you're guaranteed to stay in-the-know, and you can even initiate some light conversation of your own.
- •Don't overcommit.If you are truly just checking the score, and someone asks you about a certain play, don't say you saw it. You're going to look stupid. Just say, (with feeling) "Nooo, I was [some reason you were busy or distracted for the game], but I heard about it, I'm going to watch the highlights." That person will probably take a second to tell you what happened. As long as you're convincingly feigning interest, (congrats!) you're bonding!
- •Check the team's rank or standing so you have a little context for the game/season.1. An unranked team beating a ranked team will always get talked about (college sports); 2. For pro sports, this matters more at the end of the season (see above). 3. Do NOT waste your time constantly checking a team's record/standing. Every now and then, browse the standings so you can see generally how the team is doing. That's all.
- •If there's nothing on TV and it's in the background anyway, turn on ESPN.Chances are it's SportsCenter or another commentary-based show. Even if you're not listening carefully, you'll get a sense of what people are talking about and you won't look like a deer in headlights if someone mentions a hot topic to you.
- •Use context clues/basic conversational skills (seriously)If someone's asking about a specific player, they're probably good. If someone asks you if you saw the game and they seem like they want to commiserate, give back a vague but appropriate, "Ugh. Yeah." You probably do this naturally in other conversations. Don't scare off because you don't think you can keep up. Just stay vague.
- •Football-Specific TipsWhen in doubt, know: the quarterbacks, where the game was/will be played, the prediction/outcome, and the head coaches - then, you can say A LOT without actually knowing ANYTHING. Ex: "Looks like they've got Dallas up by 3, but you know, I think I'm going with the Rams." (If pushed on this): "I don't know, Nick Foles looks pretty good right now/Jeff Fisher's been getting it done." [Again, use context. If it's a 3-point spread, it's not controversial to say it'll be close.]
- •Hockey/Basketball-Specific TipsKnow the biggest 2-3 names on the team (or, bonus points, both teams!) and the context for the game. While people will talk about football pretty much always (it's a 16-game season), people will pretty much only talk about hockey and basketball when it means something - late in the season, playoffs, and finals (as these both have 82-game seasons). If you know why they're playing and the few impact players, you can bullshit your way through a conversation with ease.
- •Baseball-Specific TipsYes, it's America's pastime. It's also a 162-game season. Unless you are advertising yourself as a diehard baseball fan (don't), people will talk about baseball when: something notable has happened, and when the playoffs start. Browsing websites will alert you to the random No-Hitter (also, know what that is) or 16-inning game (it should only be 9), but people will start to talk baseball in late Sept./October. Know if your team is in the playoffs, and the day of the game, know who is pitching.
- •Golf/Tennis-Specific TipsGolf and tennis represent VERY little time commitment with MAJOR payoff. If you know even slightly more than the average person about these sports and the major players, you can dominate these conversations and establish yourself as a "sports person." Check those websites (see above) for news as tournaments begin, and stay up to date. Read an article or two about the "narrative" of the tournament. (They always have one.) Watch an hour or so (golf) or a match or two (tennis) and you'll crush it.
- •Go to a game every now and then.Lots of benefit to this: you can clearly talk about it, you'll appear fairly invested, and you might even have a good time. Buy cheap tickets to a game every few months. Just don't go with the co-workers you're trying to impress, as it's much harder to fool someone into thinking you know what you're talking about while you're watching together. (For a great list on this, see @evan's list, "How to Talk About Sports When You Have No Idea What You're Talking About.)
- •If all else fails, be honest and admit you didn't watch or aren't really a fan. To soften this, you can say you're "trying to get into [sport] though."Then, you can actually talk to this person about the sport as a learner. People who love sports, or certain teams, like to convert non-believers: everyone's a missionary. I actively recruit my non-college friends to be Michigan fans. You'll endear yourself to this person if you position them as your teacher.