LINDGREN COLUMN: The benefits of sports for your career

Are you a sports fan? Did you play sports as a kid? Perhaps you’re an athlete today, however you define that term.

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with sports: I love them, they hate me. The stories of my mishaps with athletic pursuits are legion and nearly epic in scope. I don’t know many people who have tried as hard as I have and failed on such a consistent and comprehensive basis to master a sport. Any sport. Just one.

And yet, I know I’m better for trying. I’m a better business owner, a better career strategist, a better friend and a better person. I don’t mean that I’m more successful in any of these pursuits; I mean that I approach them from a better frame of mind and conduct myself in a better fashion because of my forays into the world of sports.

This isn’t a new line of thought for me, but it came to the front this week when I saw a St. Paul Pioneer Press article by Bob Shaw on Minnesota’s national dominance in the rate of participation by girls in organized sports.

Minnesota being my home state, I was interested to see how we stacked up. As it turns out, we’re knocking it out of the park, even tripling some states in girls’ per capita participation in sports. Nor are we slouches when it comes to boys’ sports participation, which has been rising in every category measured except for golf and football.

If you read the article (https://www.twincities.com/2018/08/12/minnesota-vaults-to-no-1-in-girls-sports-participation/), you’ll see a handful of theories about Minnesota’s success, including the number and variety of opportunities our schools offer.

As a fan of the Lynx, our world-champion women’s professional basketball team, I wasn’t surprised to see some of the credit go there. Can it be coincidental that a ten-year sustained spike in girls’ sports participation was nearly concurrent with the return of all-time great Lindsay Whalen to play for her home state?

With Whalen’s transition this year to a new career as the head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, it seems appropriate to connect the dots on how participating in sports can positively impact one’s career.

Whether you played sports as a youngster, or have just started in your adult years (and regardless of whether you actually attain mastery) here are some of the career benefits you can expect to reap from participating in a sport.

Ability to accept criticism and instruction. At any skill level, your sport will demand humility while you strive to improve. Learning to listen to feedback before engaging an emotional reaction is the mark of a champion.

Opportunity to learn about team work. Did you know that you don’t have to like the people at work in order to succeed together? Sports teach you to value others for their abilities, as well as – or in spite of – their personalities.

Guidance in pushing beyond your usual limits. Having others count on you, having a game or personal best on the line, or just having a coach who believes you can improve – these are elements common in sports that are difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Confidence in your ability to recover from failure. It’s good to learn what you can do, but it’s also valuable to learn what you can’t do, at least yet. When you fail in sports, there’s always a next time. Indeed, sometimes the very next play presents a new opportunity to succeed.

Actual career opportunities. While sports is a multi-billion-dollar industry with literally hundreds of job titles under its umbrella, there are also plenty of non-sports organizations that explicitly seek to hire sporty people. To see for yourself, try this simple search engine exercise: Type in Sports + Sales Jobs (or try other types of work) and see how many opportunities pop up with non-sport employers.

Networking contacts. When you play sports as an adult, your coaches, your teammates, and all of their spouses enter your orbit. Since nearly everyone you meet will be working somewhere, you have an instant set of new contacts in your network.

While these benefits sound pretty compelling, there’s just one problem: What if you, or the children you’re trying to guide, don’t like sports? My guess is that many of the same benefits could be derived from activities such as music groups and acting, and from academic clubs which are competitive enough to demand personal excellence.

Bottom line? Whatever your age, I’d bet on activities that challenge you to go beyond self-imposed limits while making you answer to others on a team. The benefits to you as a worker and as an individual just may surprise you.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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