On Leadership, Playing Sports and Achieving Business Excellence

I have long recognized the strong correlation between having a history of playing sports and success in business.

And as a general rule, I have found this link to be remarkably evident in females.

Having competed in sports as a child and competing in the business world today, I know firsthand how valuable the experiences gained in sports can be.

On “Sporty” People

As a hiring manager, I often favor candidates who played team sports or engaged in other competitive activities in their youth. I find that the skills they honed on the “playing field” were often the very same that propelled them to the top of their game in business.

The most prominent skills are:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Perseverance
  • Discipline
  • Sportsmanship
  • Time Management
  • Grit
  • Punctuality

In my experience, “sporty” people are taught to stay focused on their goals. They have the motivation to continue following setbacks, and they know that success takes hard work.

Just the Facts

I recently found two studies that validate my experience and underscore the fundamental role that participation in sports plays in developing female leaders.

The most recent data is from a global survey commissioned in 2013 by the professional services firm Ernst and Young. This survey found that 96% of women in the “C-Suite” played sports at some level while growing up.

These survey findings are consistent with an earlier study conducted in 2002 by the mutual fund company Oppenheimer. The Oppenheimer study revealed that 82% of women in executive-level jobs had played organized sports after elementary school, including school teams, intramurals, or recreational leagues.

It’s Not Too Late

If you didn’t play team sports as a kid, it’s not too late.

The study also showed that businesswomen exercise and play sports significantly more than the general population of women. Two-thirds of women business executives exercise regularly, which other research would show is close to double the proportion for the general population of women.

The data is clear and that is this:

Being sporty not only helps women succeed in business, it sends them straight to the top.

On Playing Sports

Consider the benefits of playing teams sports:

  • Teamwork:

Team sports teach athletes how to cooperate with others to achieve a common goal. Being able to work productively with a team is critical to achieving success in business. Being able to work on a team is a crucial part of my hiring process.

  • Goal Oriented:

As an athlete, you are always looking to improve your performance. It may be to run further, faster, or lift more weight. Employers need workers that will work hard to accomplish their goals and continually “raise the bar.”

  • Perseverance:

Athletes learn that if you get knocked down, literally and figuratively, you can pick yourself up and keep going. People that persevere in business, work hard to hold themselves and others responsible for achieving business objectives. They don’t let obstacles get in their way.

  • Time-Management:

Child athletes learn at a young age how to balance school, homework, and athletics. Employers desire efficient workers that are self-motivated and stay on task.

  • Competitive & Assertive:

The competitive activity teaches the importance of winning and bouncing back after losing. Engaging in competitive activity as a child may help women learn that it is acceptable to compete aggressively.

The “Ginormosity” of it All

Clearly, the value of engaging in physical activity throughout you’re your lifetime is enormous.

Hiring managers consider the benefits of hiring candidates with strong competitive and/or sports backgrounds? Individuals with a sports background, consider the skills you have gained and use them to help you garner success in business.

So did you play sports growing up? If so, what lessons did you learn that have helped you in business and in life? How has this background benefited you and those you lead? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Dee Mahoney is Founder and President of Career-Lessons, LLC
Dee is an Executive Coach and a Leadership Trainer
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog

Image Sources: media.naplesnews.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Jim Trunick on May 2, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Excellent Dee!! I agree on “sporty” , particarly if amateur sport, I have hired professional athletes and not always found the same glowing attributes of teamwork, dedication and work ethic, played out as you outlined. The WSJ did an article several years ago “the gym greenhouse” regarding sports as a developer for good business skills. They found that to your point, “sporty” was great at the amateur level, and sadly professional sports, often caused “wobble” on ethics and sportsmanship as money may mis-direct those values.

    I have also found men and women engaged in coaching youth sports may have advanced perspective and maturity skills to handle various business personnel and team challenges .

    • Dee Mahoney on May 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thank you!

  2. ramakrishnan6002 on May 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

  3. robinade on May 5, 2014 at 3:49 am

    I believe the benefit of sports is especially potent for women. I have seen that through my daughter, a competitive athlete, and her friends.

    And data supports this:

    * High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
    * Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
    * Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

    Check out Women’s Sport Foundation – https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/advocate/foundation-positions/mental-and-physical-health/benefits_why_sports_participation_for_girls_and_women

    This NIKE video says it all https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ_XSHpIbZE

    • Dee Mahoney on May 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

      As a mother of two young girls, I am thrilled that my daughters enjoy playing team sports. The benefits are numerous.

  4. Adrian Woodstock on May 5, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Dee, great article.

    I can relate to the skills that you talk about because from personal experience playing semi professional soccer for 18 years it taught me a lot about people. It provided me with the insight I needed when I was asked to lead teams in business. I was able to understand that each team needs clarity and a clear team purpose/goal. There needs to be different motivations and approaches to each person within the team, a resiiance, will or discipline together with a willingness to hold each other to account so we all performed and delivered.

    More importantly though I can se my sports mad daughter at 12 is gaining an understanding of the attributes you talk about so hoping his will stand her in good stead in working with others in a positive way in her career.

    • Dee Mahoney on May 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

      Thank you!

  5. Antonio Simancas on May 6, 2014 at 3:25 am

    Reblogged this on Network of thought.