Dr. Rick Franza, Professor of Management at the Hull College of Business, discusses a different, timely business topic each Monday in this column. This week, he talks about the advantages of hiring people who played sports in school. The interview has been edited for clarity and impact.
ABD: Although academics is often the focus of preparing for a career, some companies are finding that people who participated in sports in high school and/or college have valuable assets. Why is that?
Rick: Sports and even marching band provide kids with the value of teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, and leadership. Sports teach a lot of important lessons that are applicable to any job. They teach so many skills such as being part of a team. They often teach about leadership and following and when to do each.
ABD: Many larger companies organize their employees into teams, and small businesses also often feel like a team endeavor. What are some skills learned from being on a team that carry over into the work world?
Rick: Being part of a team allows you to develop respect for other people’s abilities and shows how your assets may be another person’s liabilities and vice versa. You appreciate other people’s different capabilities – in football, for example, the running backs and other skilled positions realize those linemen are very important for their success. Being on a team also allows you to find your voice and where you fit into the team.
When you take a job, you’re not always going to like the boss or the people you work with. Being on a sports team or in a marching band teaches you to get along with people and get the job done, even with people you may not like. When you’re on a travel team, there is plenty of sitting around time, and you learn to deal with people during your playing time and in your off time.
ABD: In competition, there’s always a winner and a loser. How does that translate into the workplace?
Rick: It teaches you how to deal with failure. A lot of kids these days are dealing with failure for the first time as adults. Sports teach you that failure is real, and that failure isn’t fatal. It teaches resilience to find where the mistakes are and how to correct them.
It can also be motivating. My older daughter in about eighth grade got cut from a travel team. Each girl had a number pinned to her jersey shirt. My daughter kept her number and had it pinned to her corkboard even as a college senior to motivate her.
You learn to be a good winner and a good loser. People who play sports learn good sportsmanship and how to comfort themselves. They’ve seen both sides, so hopefully, they learn to treat the person who lost the way they want to be treated when they lose.
ABD: When I coached high school sports, it was hard sometimes to get the kids to see the value of practice. But those who worked the hardest usually had the most success. Is that a factor in the work environment?
Rick: Sports teach kids that hard work can beat talent. When I played sports, very rarely was I among the top players on the team, but I worked hard. I’d look at the other players who were more talented but not working as hard and couldn’t believe they were wasting their talent.
It also teaches accountability. There’s always a scoreboard that’s showing you what you’re doing is helping to win or not. Along with that is time management. People who play sports in school learn to manage their time better because they still have to keep up with their academics.
There’s a level of maturity you find in student-athletes because they’ve gone through more. They’ve seen a lot of different types of people. And they’ve dealt with more adversity, not just in failure or losing, but in injuries and recovery.
ABD: There seem to be a lot of advantages in employing people with a sports background. What other skills do they bring?
Rick: Employers should look at employees who are coachable, and athletes for the most part are coachable. Typically, athletes also have better communication skills, both in talking to people and in listening, because they’ve had to.
Athletics also build up a person’s competitive nature in a good way. You see a lot of people in sales and senior management with athletic experience because they bring those competitive traits to the table.
ABD: You’ve mentioned your daughters playing sports and women’s sports are popular in high school and college. Does playing sports also help women succeed in the workplace?
Rick: Some people argue that there aren’t as many women in leadership, in the C suite, because of bias or prejudice against them. But I’d argue that in my time, women didn’t have as much opportunity in sports and the roles that sports prepare people for. So, sports are not just important for males, but maybe even more so for females.
ABD: Of course, all of this starts at a pretty young age. Any advice for parents?
Rick: This is an important topic for young people and for parents to encourage their children to be involved in sports. Not all kids will enjoy sports, of course, but marching band and even scouts can encourage those skills.
Just because you were an athlete doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be successful in your career, but it does give you a lot of applicable skills.