24 November 2014

From Barbells to Boardrooms: the parallels between Sport and Business

I walked out of the CEO’s office with a smile on my face. I’d been reprimanded for not performing a task the way I should have. I told my CEO I knew I had made an error and that it was completely my mistake. Not accustomed to how I’d graciously acknowledged my mistake, he continued to reprimand me in a very kind, constructive and positive manner, obviously not wanting to offend me. I had understood the point, and my error, and all I wanted was for him to give me my next task and challenge. What he didn’t realise was that workplace feedback pales in comparison to the feedback that I’d received throughout my sporting career as a Tasmanian, NSW and Australian hockey representative. It was nothing in comparison to the time my coach showed footage of a goal I missed in front of my NSW team members and Australian coaches, while providing brutal commentary. Or the feedback I received when I missed out on an Australian national selection by one team member. Because of my unique sporting experiences, I have the ability and resilience to take criticism in the workplace better than my colleagues. To me, a boss’s criticism is water off a duck’s back.

The Research
For my Honours (Commerce) research which I completed this year as part of my Commerce/Law degree, I explored the parallels between sport and business, and how an elite athlete can best transition from elite level sport to the corporate sector. I interviewed former medal winning Olympians, Captains of Australian teams and members of the Wallabies, all of who are now extremely successful in corporate organisations. My interviewees applied the traits and skills of a former elite athlete to their work environment and the practices within it. They demonstrated discipline, efficiency, work-ethic, strategic planning abilities, had fantastic time management skills, were constantly seeking new challenges and were always motivated to achieve.

Whether in a team or individual sport, athletes have to ensure everyone is dedicated to working towards achieving the same goal. In a high-performance culture, athletes have learnt to manage different personalities, partaking in what I call, “an unofficial management degree”.  They have accumulated distinct teamwork abilities and leadership skills that are directly transferrable to the workplace. These intrinsic sporting traits, skills, attributes and attitudes differentiate former athletes and have the potential to yield to a sustained competitive advantage as an employee.

The Application
In my workplace, I recently had to moderate a Senior Managers performance review. Although I lacked the twenty years of experience which both managers in the meeting had, I drew upon the leadership abilities I accumulated through my Tasmanian, NSW and U/21 Australian captaincy roles. Coaching the Senior Manager through a performance plan, creating short and long-term goals and outlining specific KPI’s, was analogous to the strategic planning I enacted with Coaches and team members. As the Captain of the NSW team at a National Championships, I once had to conduct a meeting between three fighting team members who refused to pass the ball to each other on the field. As you can imagine, the meeting in my workplace with a Senior Manager therefore was a breeze.

Nina Khoury
Student at the University of Sydney Business School

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