4 Ways Sports can Benefit Careers

From interviews to growing networks and leadership opportunities, Sean McCall shares the many benefits sports offer to a person’s career. (04:00)

In my younger days as a student-athlete, I had the belief that the time I spent on my sports were only advancing the “athlete” in me and not the “student” or the “professional” in me.  I realize now I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I recently had the pleasure of combining one of my personal passions (Ultimate Frisbee) with work for the purposes of new hire campus recruiting on the campus of Brigham Young University in the beautiful setting of Provo, Utah.  I took this opportunity to address some topics that were never addressed to me as a student-athlete.

Sports harden you in important ways

One of the traps that coaches, teachers, parents can fall into is to praise one’s intelligence.  Scientific research from Carol Dweck (link) describes the uplift of praising one’s effort, which often leads to the person being willing to try the next challenging problem, versus praising one’s intelligence which often leads to hesitation when faced with the next challenging problem.  Sports allow you to practice your best effort, with tight feedback loops on your performance and preparation.  These feedback loops are often much smaller and closer together than the feedback loops we experience at work in the form of feedback from our Manager or formal performance reviews.

 “In baseball and in business, there are three types of people. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
— Tommy Lasorda

Sports often afford you leadership opportunities

Most teams that are below the professional level allow for members of the team to opt-in to team support roles like Manager, Captain, Coach, Logistics Coordinator, Treasurer, etc.  These support roles can allow you the chance to be a leader by organizing a fundraiser or defining a new framework or methodology for the team’s benefit.  Some roles like Captain or Coach allow you to handle difficult moments like team morale, managing emotions after a loss, interpersonal conflicts among teammates, playing time issues, conflict resolution, and many more.  I think of sports like a petri dish for leadership.

Sports are perfect opportunities to build your teamwork experience for behavioral interviews

Recruiters and executives might be open to interview candidates using a non-work example in an interview.  Our company Pariveda Solutions certainly is, as was each company I interviewed with when I was a college senior at LSU.  I had many great stories to tell from athletics when faced with questions like:  Tell me about a time when a teammate wasn’t pulling their weight.  Tell me about a time when you encountered something that felt insurmountable.  Tell me about a time when you have failed at something you cared passionately about.  Good sportsmanship has a strong parallel to the workplace and can help build emotional intelligence, situational knowledge, and humility.  It also has a nice byproduct of staying fit which can help build confidence and increase productivity.

 “If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.”
— Mario Andretti

Sports can help you build your network

Sports teams often have a wonderful cross section of professions or college majors, which allows you to expand the domain reach of your network.  You have the opportunity to expand the geographic reach of your network as you advance to more area- or state- or region-level competitions.  Sports is a great way to connect with people in a new city and build a network in addition to your work friends.

I believe there is an opportunity to promote more blending of these two worlds and be more open as coaches, teachers, managers, and parents about the benefits of participating in sports for performance and effectiveness in school and business.  Personally, sports have helped me through some of the most difficult or challenging moments in my life including building confidence during adolescent years, finding my identity in high school and college, building a professional network that extended past work, and meeting my lovely wife.

In what ways have sports been a benefit in your career?  In your life?

I don’t know if Odell Beckham Jr. would be a good fit for your company but I lived in the athletic dorm at LSU with his dad and I saw Odell Sr. as a leader, a team player, and a fierce competitor, and I have enjoyed keeping up with him since.  Would you hire Odell Beckham Jr.?

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