Play Ball! Right Up to the Boardroom

Is there a correlation between playing sports as a child and becoming a leader in business? A survey from Ernest and Young would say “yes.” Hadley Catalano, contributor at the Glass Hammer wrote an article entitled What do Sports Teach Women for Business?

At the very least, involvement in sports, either on the field or coaching from the couch, teach women the lingo to be able to keep up in the boardroom with those obscure sports references the “boys” often make. 

Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players. Larry Bird.

But on a more concrete level, the research from E&Y suggested a direct relationship to those women who had played in organized sports as a youth and their leadership success.

Of the women senior managers and executives that took part in EY’s online survey, 90 percent participated in sports at some level, be it in secondary school, university, or beyond. The percentage of participation rose to 96 percent among C-suite women. By comparison, a larger proportion of women executives participated in collegiate sports than their lower-level managers with nearly 67 percent of the elite group partaking in sports as a working adult, compared with 55 percent of other managers.

An Oppenheimer Funds survey commissioned in 2002 examined the role sports played (pun intended) in the role of female leaders.

The Oppenheimer Funds survey confirmed the usefulness of sports-related attributes by career women, indicating that, of those who played after grade school, 86 percent said sports helped them to be more disciplined, 81 percent said sports helped them to function better as part of a team, 69 percent said sports helped them to develop leadership skills, 68 percent said sports helped them to deal with failure, and 59 percent said sports gave them a competitive edge over others.

Of course, for those that are not sports inclined, there are other similar endeavors young girls can participate in that will also provide experience and skills that translate well into the business world later in life. Organizations such as Girl Scouts, church/synagogue, non-profit involvement (helping at a local soup kitchen) or organizing a club in high school also help embed the leadership traits in our youth.

Kathryn Kolbert, the Constance Hess Williams Director of Barnard College’sAthena Center for Leadership Studies shares her thoughts on the subject of organized sports and women in leadershp and cautions that it isn’t a slam dunk path to success (the puns are flying around here!)

Unfortunately sports participation is not a silver bullet, Kolbert explained. If it were “a direct line to increasing the number of women in leadership, we would have seen more of an uptick in women ascending to leadership following the passage of Title IX. Regrettably the numbers have not improved significantly in the last 20 years. Women are still only 18-22 percent of leaders in most industries.”

While Title IX did account for about a 40 percent rise in employment for women ages 25 to 34, more awareness is required in order to promote a cross pollination of successful athletes – and women on the whole – into successful businesswomen in leadership positions.

According to Kolbert, “Women need to develop mentors and sponsors to help them achieve their goals. But once they rise up the leadership ladder, women have a responsibility to help other women and develop mentees and protégés.”

Tara Duggan has written an article that asks the question Do Sports Help Improve Leadership Skills? The answer? Yes. Of the many ways you can benefit from what you’ve learned on the playing field, Tara suggestions that being a good decision maker is one of them:

Playing sports helps participants learn to make decisions by observing and interpreting information quickly. Effective leaders exhibit decisive behavior. For example, a football quarterback typically has only a few seconds to decide where to throw a pass. Playing sports helps a person develop the skills and behavior necessary to succeed in a dynamic, global workplace. Additionally, by participating on a team, a player learns to develop strategies and work with his teammates to enable their victory. Playing sports prepares a leader to influence others, set realistic goals and solve problems efficiently to win a competitive advantage.

So what happens if your daughter doesn’t like sports or your niece would prefer to color than kick? What about you? Maybe you missed the athletic gene – does that mean that your future is doomed to that of a follower?

Of course not. There are a variety of ways to gain the skills and traits a great leader displays – take a class, volunteer for a cause, request the opportunity to serve on a committee at work, start a club or group in your community.

However, if you or your young ones are interested in sports – know that you are learning more than just how to score a point!