I don’t follow sports. When people ask “do you follow sports,” I used to say “no,” and the conversation would drop with an awkward silence. However, I’ve learned that people have an affinity for sports on a personal basis. There is always a reason people root for a team, whether because they grew up watching with their family or because they spent time in that team’s city. Sports is a proxy for a personal connection, so I focus the conversation on that instead. For example:

Friend: Do you follow hockey?
Me: Not really, but I enjoy talking about it. What team do you follow?
Friend: I’m a fan of the San Jose Sharks.
Me: Neat! How did you start following them?
Friend: My dad is a Sharks fan, so I would watch it with him growing up?
Me: What was that like?
Friend: It was fun!

Before long, we can direct the conversation to talking about her dad and sharing parent stories. I get to know more about the person and we can still talk about sports if she wants.

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