When you play a sport or pursue some other athletic activity, it’s easy to focus on the physical skills you’re developing while neglecting the mental aspect. However, you are building many other skills at the same time you are getting your sweat on. Whatever the sport and however competitive you are, athletes get to develop a range of skills. What you learn on the courts or the baseball field can benefit you in other contexts, most notably in the workplace.
Many of the skills athletes develop are as desirable in the office as they are on the courts. Regardless of your long-term career plans, skills you develop on the court, in the pool, or on a bike can be crucial to your success. These highly transferable skills include:
For workplaces to be successful, team members must be able to communicate effectively — with each other, with leadership, and with customers. Happily, athletes usually excel at communication, given that good communication skills are essential to a team sport. You’re constantly honing your communication skills by developing strategies, signaling intentions in the moment on the playing field, and debriefing a game afterwards.
Team building is a major focus in most workplaces today. Athletes are well equipped with teamwork skills given that they are, literally, team players. Sports show clearly how the success of one team member is attached to the success of the others.
Members of a group can achieve more when they support one another. Even if you participate in an individual sport, such as swimming or skiing, you train with peers. Regardless of how competitive you are, hopefully you have a supportive relationship. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that this skill only applies to those athletes who play team-based sports.
3. Ability to Take Direction
One thing that athletes can do better than almost anyone else is take direction. Even at the amateur recreational level, most athletes will have a coach who gives feedback on their performance and offers strategies for improvement. In the workplace, taking direction without becoming defensive is a valuable skill. It shows that you can take constructive criticism and use it to better yourself (and by extension your whole team). You’re demonstrating that you’re willing and able to learn and adapt.
4. Time Management
Unless you’re a professional athlete, you’re fitting your athletic activities into an already full schedule of work and personal obligations. In other words, you’re developing your time management skills. Athletics teaches you what to prioritize when, develop and execute plans, and meet your obligations. All these skills will serve you well in the workplace. Showing employers that you know how to use your time wisely is a tremendous asset.
5. Quick Decision-Making
Athletes are used to making split-second decisions. You might identify which teammate has the highest chance of receiving a pass or choose the right moment to put on a final burst of speed. This ability to act quickly and decisively using all the information you have at the time is also useful in the workplace. You will need to make decisive calls on matters relating to client or customer accounts without consulting with supervisors or other team members to be successful.
6. Goal Setting
Athletes set goals and then identify and take the necessary steps to achieve them. For example, if you’re a runner, your goal might be to run farther or faster than before. However, you also know you need to adjust your training regimen accordingly to successfully achieve that goal. The ability to identify what you want to do, what you need to do to be successful, and what criteria will be used to measure your progress are key workplace skills. It shows initiative.
It’s easy to identify failure in an athletic context — your team lost the game, another runner was faster than you, or you fell in your gymnastics routine. These scenarios are deeply familiar to any athlete. There’s nothing to do but try again. Because athletes deal with failure again and again, but still return to practice and training sessions to do better next time, they develop a strong capacity for resilience.
Failure won’t be the end of your career. It’s just a setback that you can get past if you keep moving forward. In a workplace, the things that can go wrong might look different than they do on the field — losing a client rather than losing a game, for example. However, the resilience that you need to continue is the same.