If you visit SAS’ Headquarters campus on a sunny day during lunchtime, you’re likely to see a flurry of activity – employees walking to cafes, sneaking in a midday run on the trails, or just catching a breath of fresh air. You’re also likely to see another sight, albeit less common for a corporate campus: employees playing soccer.
More than a game
Lunchtime soccer isn’t just a great way to stay active and re-energize during the workday. At SAS, the connections go beyond the soccer field: “I’ve made so many connections on the soccer field that have helped me in my role later,” shares Ole Bisgaard, Principal Technical Consultant. Philippe Sabourin, a contractor in Solutions Factory, echoes the same: “I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve used a soccer connection to help make progress in my work – it happens every month,” he explains. “I’ve even met some of my closest friends through SAS soccer.”
For many, the soccer program has also provided a soft landing, making life transitions a bit easier. Jennifer Beeman, Sr. Analytics Software Tester, began her SAS soccer journey right after graduating from college, helping her network and meet colleagues. 18 years later, it’s still supporting her well-being: “Now that I have kids and life is busier, SAS’ soccer program still allows me to fit exercise and social time into my day – it’s free to play, I don’t have to drive anywhere, and there’s someone watching my kids. And it’s a great quality league!”
“There’s so much camaraderie within the program – it’s like a family. I can go out there and get competitive, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of friendship,” she shares. “It's a unique workplace experience that gives me a sense of belonging with my colleagues."
Soccer at SAS: a History
“In the 1980’s, before we had soccer fields, we’d bring goals in from outside and play five on five in the Recreation and Fitness Center,” explains Gerardo Hurtado, Principal Analytics Software Tester. “We usually had more people who wanted to play than space, so we rotated. It would get hot inside the gym, but we still had a lot of fun,” he remembers.
In 1998, SAS constructed soccer fields adjacent to the Recreation and Fitness Center, and with the new addition, the soccer program became more formalized and began to grow - fast. Today, SAS’ soccer program has come a long way from indoor pickup games, boasting recreational and competitive leagues, an annual draft, and over 150 players.
“The competitive league is made up of more experienced players, but what I love about the recreational league is that it gets people exposed to soccer – we advertise that all skill levels are welcome, including beginners,” explains Philippe. “They don’t keep score; we only track participation – it’s just for fun.”
Many people who start in the recreational league eventually move into the competitive league – and it’s not uncommon for employees to play in both leagues: “It gets a lot of people to try soccer who maybe haven’t been exposed,” explains Jason Bosko, Software Development Manager. “There’s a lot of mentorship and camaraderie across both leagues – it’s a friendly, learning-focused environment.”
It’s not just Headquarters that’s been bitten by the lunchtime soccer bug – SAS employees’ love for soccer is global, with employee teams organized through various country offices around the world. Ole began his career with SAS Denmark in 1995 and later relocated to SAS Headquarters in 1998: “I’ve traveled to Paris twice to play soccer, and now that some players from global teams have relocated to the states, we’ll meet up to play locally. We have representation from France, England, Germany and more – there’s a lot of diversity in the SAS soccer community,” he explains.
There’s even an annual SAS employee soccer tournament in Europe called SAS European Football International (or better known as “SEUFI,” for short). Players travel internationally to meet and compete for the prized trophy – and of course, bragging rights. Over the years, it has taken place in France, UK, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Some years, the United States has joined the fun, and even won the tournament in 2012!
At SAS, we’re proud to support employees’ well-being, and our lunchtime soccer leagues are just one way to create social connections and encourage physical wellness. What’s your favorite way to get active and make connections during the work week? Let us know in the comments.