President and COO at Skyhawks Sports.
“On your mark, get set, go!” It’s a phrase we are all familiar with, symbolizing that the race is on. For kids, perhaps at face value, it’s a fun activity to engage in at recess, P.E. class or sports camp—with the reward at the finish line. In reality, it’s actually everything learned while participating in the race that matters in the long run.
I work with a sports franchise providing a safe, fun and skill-based sports experience for kids between the ages of 2 and 14. Our mission is to teach life skills through sports. When you see a 4-year-old kicking a soccer ball down the field, you see a happy child having fun, getting exercise, enjoying fresh air and just being a kid. The “goal” is not always the shot to the net. What this child is learning is discipline, restraint, teamwork, sharing and rule-following—a few of the same principles that are essential for success in the business world.
How Sports Help Develop Skill Sets
There are both implicit and explicit life skills that you can pick up as a result of sports participation. Implicitly, you might receive instructions about the game. In volleyball, for example, a child learns how to bump, set and serve the ball. Skills derived from this activity include following instructions, determination, perseverance, self-control, critical thinking and empowerment. Conversely, a coach may explicitly instruct players about how important teamwork is in utilizing three hits to get the ball over the net to the opponent. This not only shows how essential relationship-building is, but it enhances social skills like negotiation, empathy and camaraderie. Those skills carry over to business.
In fact, a partnered global study with Ernest and Young and ESPNW showed that 94% of women executives have a background in sport and 80% of women Fortune 500 executives played competitive sports.
What makes a sports participant successful in business and attractive to an employer is any number of life skills learned when they were a child. Perhaps it’s the confidence and self-esteem they exude that help them set goals and assertively achieve them. Maybe it’s knowing that someone who’s played sports understands how to make the big, tough decisions under pressure at the buzzer. Perhaps it’s the keen sense of understanding the competition and creating strategies to excel. Sports have a funny way of teaching humility as well.
Learning to cope with sitting the bench, having a bad performance or losing the game-winning touchdown and still congratulating the other team—these are lessons gleaned from experience through sports participation. Legendary basketball player Michael Jordan, said it best: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot… and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
It’s that resilience that makes those who’ve played sports in their younger years, attractive to employers and successful. When it comes to leadership, for example, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower both participated in team sports and relied heavily on a team-approach management style while in the White House.
How To Cultivate A Sports-Like Atmosphere In Business
Whether in the Oval Office or any other corporate position, leaders can carry some of the lessons from youth sports participation into running a business and managing a team. Here’s how:
1. Set the bar high. It’s important for leadership to set high standards like a coach does for the team. In franchising, for example, it’s essential to clearly communicate brand standards to the team or, in this case, our franchise owners. This serves to maintain and grow the integrity of the brand.
2. Encourage growth and perseverance. Challenge your team to step out of their comfort zone and be tenacious by participating in team and career development. Points are not scored without getting in the game and trying new strategies and building on them.
3. Make room for resilience. In team sports, one team will win and the other will lose. As a leader, challenge your team to bounce back and not be afraid of mistakes but to learn from them. Sometimes it’s important for the boss to take a step back and let the team problem-solve among themselves. This teaches discipline, promotes determination and encourages teamwork.
4. Foster team spirit and mutual support. Invite your team members to publicly support each other. Recognition doesn’t always have to come from the boss. This is invaluable motivation and shows team members that they are being supported. Use a weekly staff email as the huddle to cheer each other on.
In conclusion, utilizing the life skills learned from youth sports can absolutely create success in business. But we’ve got to remember to take the on-the-field lessons off the field in all aspects of life. It’s about living up to our potential and running our best race every day. It’s not always about the finish line, it’s how we run the race. And let’s not forget the fun along the way.
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