The Role of Sports in Leadership

John Donahoe, Indra Nooyi, Brian Moynihan. What do these names have in common? For those who follow Forbes, Fortune or other business publications, you’ll easily recognize these names as the leaders behind the biggest corporations in the United States, corporations such as eBay, Intel, Paypal, Pepsi Co., and Bank of America.

These leaders are superstars in their own right, leading companies in highly competitive markets to continuous growth and relevance for the years to come. But aside from being excellent businessmen, did you know that they were also fans of sports and grew up playing in their youths?

In fact, most leaders consider their involvement in sports as a major stepping stone for success in the corporate world.

Sports participation plays a positive role in the development of future leaders. I was surprised to find that aside from the names mentioned above, a research by TheDriveGroup shows that 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs played college sports. The benefits of sport participation includes improved physical health, development of important skills, and even improves our psychosocial skills.

Improved Physical Health

Recent studies have found that healthy employees translate to an increase in productivity. Although there is nothing we can do about what they eat or how long they sleep, we can always encourage them to participate in sports programs.

One of the obvious benefits of playing sports is improved physical health. If a person who exercises for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week is already 15% more likely to have higher job performance, what more someone who spends a majority of his/her free time engaged in sports? Additionally, this increases work engagement by an average of 18%.

A leader should always be productive and engaged, and if you want to develop a healthy, productive and engaging team, sports can be one avenue to achieve it.

Development of Life Skills

Goal setting and time management are some of the skills that can also be developed through sports participation.

In playing sports, it is important to set a plan, execute it, and achieve the goals set by the team. Athletes are also trained on how to convert the teams’ vision and goals into sub-goals that can be done and measured daily, weekly, or monthly.

In order to achieve these goals, time management is essential to an athlete. Early on, you’ll realize the need to balance your time between work and sports. You’ll understand that nothing is given for free and that you would have to work and allot time to practice in order to improve and appreciate the sport more. These skills are as necessary to the workplace (and life in general) as it is to sports. A good leader should have a good grasp on these because without it, an organization is lost without direction.

Improved Psychosocial Skills

Sports can also teach us a thing or two about how to relate to other people and how to work well together. Athletes will understand the importance of team, and that no one, regardless of what sport you participate in, can win without the help of other people. Through sports, you get a chance to work with older and more experienced professionals (coaches, trainers, etc.), your peers and rookie players in a team. A team has to work collaboratively towards one specific goal, but oftentimes, there will be someone you won’t see eye to eye with. You will be forced to work with this person and find a way to overcome your differences for the good of the team.

Sports and the corporate world have a lot of things in common. Because of this, sports participation can help develop the discipline that future leaders can rely on in handling companies and organizations. A healthy body, necessary life skills and people skills can all be developed by participating in sports. 

“Mens sana in corpore sano.” A sound mind in a sound body.



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