From The Court To The Cubicle: 14 Ways Playing Sports Prepares You For Workplace Success

by Kelley Lord

My dad had me attempting to dribble a ball before I quit dribbling on myself. I grew up as a triathlete, who always made sure to be doing something “in-season.”

There is a deeply-rooted drive in athletes that stays with them from t-ball to the biggest league of them all: the real world. Although we retired our jersey numbers for office email addresses, we still feel like players who are part of the game.

Not much has really changed, though. We still have goals, competition, loss and victory. With all the practice we’ve had over the years, these are the 14 reasons why we will be more likely to step up to the plate than stay on the bench:

1. We respect our higher ups.

Training with a coach taught us to respect his or her authority and advice. We learned to put our egos aside and learn from those who have more experience than we do.

Translating this into the workplace, we look to our bosses or mentors for wisdom and apply it to ourselves.

2. We know what it really takes to be a team player.

Many loathe doing group projects, but this is where athletes thrive. With plenty of experience playing on teams, we depend on people we may not trust, have been there for people we may not have liked and motivated people in whom we may not have fully believed.

We stay focused on the group's goals and encourage each individual’s strengths to achieve it. Instead of being a ball-hog, we share our accomplishments with others because we want everyone to participate.

3. Our eyes stay focused on the finish line.

Sometimes, people pass up on great internships or side projects because they don’t think they're worth the time. While some may be ashamed of bottom-line tasks, athletes see them out with no hesitation, knowing the basics will lead to where we want to go. 

We see each opportunity as stepping stones to better our skills.

Whether it's a pick-up game or an extra hour at the gym, we put in the extra effort and time because our eyes are on the prize.

4. We stay hungry.

After we find a taste of something we love, our raging appetites grow uncontrollable. While some may work Monday through Friday, we can’t seem to turn off our drives so simply.

We find ourselves brainstorming business strategies far after business hours. With our minds always running and passion constantly pumping, our willpower becomes unstoppable.

5. Second place just isn’t an option.

When you play a sport in middle school, I am sure you did not see your career ending with the high school varsity team. There just wasn’t a point to playing unless the end goal was going pro and we carried this vision to the workplace.

While many around us are complacent with their current jobs, we itch to claim the next steps in our careers. While we deliver the CEO his or her coffee, we picture ourselves in the same chair. And consequently, we are the people who will eventually get there.

6. We invite competition.

What is a win without worthy competitors? Instead of growing intimidated or jealous of our office nemeses, we praise their presence. We learn from them and try to emulate their strengths. After vicious games, we become able to face the opponents, shake their hands and acknowledge the effort.

With constant competitors in the workplace, we learn the value of having rivalries and how to use them to our advantages.

7. We welcome feedback.

Many people cannot take criticism. They get defensive, offended and even find themselves in denial before they can admit their faults. Unlike these people, we want to know our faults.

When people point out our weaknesses, we grow grateful that they are honest and upfront. We can see that they are trying to help us and we use it to better ourselves.

8. We have a camaraderie with our coworkers.

We get along with our coworkers for the simple fact that we “work hard, play harder.” They can count on us for a good time outside of work and will know that we will still be there early and ready to work the next morning. Much like an intense match, work environments can get stressful.

But, we are able to realize that everyone is there for the same purpose: to keep our jobs, help make our company successful and maybe even make a difference in the world.

Being able to take a step back and realize this, we are able to see past our coworkers' differences and create the best possible work environment.

9. We know when to put on our game faces.

While some people may have trouble separating work and play, we know when to let loose, when to buckle down and when to get to work. Not only do you feel the obligation from your team, but you also feel like you owe it to yourself to do your very best.

You are being paid for your value and performance and you know to take that seriously.

10. We play fair.

Of course, there is a history of professional athletes taking shortcuts and playing dirty to get to the top. But, the players who have true athletic mentalities do what is best for the game.

We learned early in life that there is no victory in cheating. Because of this, we are honest with our work ethic, with others and with ourselves.

11. We know how to pick our battles.

There are times when you should call out the ref on a bad call and times when it’s better to keep your mouth shut. We bring this judgement to the office when we deal with daily obstacles. We have dealt with hot tempers and learned to control our own.

We have conditioned ourselves to let discouragement roll off our shoulders and come to compromises when we need them. On the contrary, we speak up when a problem must be fixed. By being able to pick our battles, we strategically choose challenges worth the fight.

12. We are conditioned for defeat.

I applied for hundreds of jobs, interviewed for less than a dozen and only heard back from a few. I finally heard a "yes" for my dream job, but that would not have happened unless I spent a year of hearing "no."

We are not much different than seasoned baseball players who know their odds when stepping up to the plate.

We know when we enter the workforce that we must fail relentlessly in order to succeed. Instead of dwelling on how many times we already tried, we treat each defeat as a lesson and bounce right back.

13. We shine under pressure.

You know that feeling; seconds left on the clock, tied score, sweat dripping from your brow and you have the ball. All you need to add to make this most people's nightmare is finding out you’re just in your underwear.

Pressure has the opposite effect on you though; you live for this. Instead of choking, athletes use the heat of the moment to show the world what they are made of. The same goes for big presentations or important meetings, when the pressure is on and your A-game is, too.

14. We know it’s all worth the sweet taste of victory.

We rarely ever give up and if we do, it is because we have already given it everything we have. We have quite literally worked through the blood, sweat and tears to achieve victory. Although the workplace usually isn’t so graphic, it is certainly just as consuming.

Our hall-of-fame dreams may have turned into employee-of-the-month aspirations and our locker rooms may have taken shapes of cubicles. But, our drives are still the same.

With the perseverance we learned as athletes, we became prepared to excel at our career paths while always remembering why we worked so hard every day — for the love of the game.

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