The experience of elite sports teaches us perseverance, grit, and selflessness. These are all invaluable skills in any work environment, and can make the difference between blending into the pack and setting yourself up for promotions and leadership roles at your company. There are truly a million reasons why college athletics can prove advantageous in our post-grad lives; it’s all about how we apply this learned athlete’s mindset and utilize it as a stepping-stone to success in the workplace. Those of us who were lucky enough to play sports at a high level for most of our lives will likely agree that the mindset of being an athlete continues to permeate all aspects of our existence. Many studies have shown that people who played sports starting at a young age become more successful adults. That said, transitioning into the working world after being a college athlete can be challenging.
Depending on how you look at it, the skills you’ve gained on the court or field can be both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side: you already have an ability to handle criticism, you understand the importance of time management, you already know how to work as a part of a team, and you are most likely capable of motivating yourself around a greater goal, whatever that goal may be.
But the athlete’s mindset can be an obstacle in the workplace as well. Perhaps you work as a part of a team in your office, and a member of that team isn’t pulling his or her weight. Not only might this cause frustration and anger, but it may compel you to “call out” your coworker to let them know that they are dropping the ball and affecting the success of the group. While openness and honesty in the workplace are arguably great things, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is used to the type of blunt criticism that most athletes become accustomed to enduring from their coaches and teammates.
Some of your coworkers will be unable to accept harsh feedback without making it personal. Another unfortunate yet persistent reality is the fact that tough and blunt women in the workplace are often criticized and judged more harshly than their male counterparts. So by default if you are a strong, confident former college athlete who happens to be a woman, you may feel like you can’t be your authentic self in the office. Perhaps you were lucky enough to be hired by a company filled with a bunch of fellow sports-loving college athletes who share a common tough-love mentality in the workplace. If so, we are all insanely jealous. But for the rest of us,
a new job can mean adjusting to an entirely new “team” and culture than the types we are used to.
So what is the solution? For the preservation of our workplace relationships, our sanity – and quite frankly, our jobs – the former college athlete has to be capable of assessing and adjusting to their work environment and culture early on. Don’t think of this as a bad thing; use it to your professional advantage. Think about it – you already know how to adapt in the face of adversity on the field. Maybe you helped your team come back from behind to win a game against all odds, or you were always the underdog that nobody believed in. Or maybe you were the lynchpin in a game-winning play, or a walk-on on a college team and managed to prove yourself as an invaluable asset. You also already know how to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates to simultaneously give them what they need to succeed while motivating them to rise to the occasion and pull their weight. Use these strengths and apply them in the workplace so that you can hit the ground running and eventually emerge as a leader of your respective team or company. Prove early on that you are great at taking instruction, staying focused, and not derailing in the face of obstacles. You know how to get results!