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Boys soccer team, aged 12-14, using a tablet computer to discuss tactics and team formations before a soccer match.
Boys soccer team, aged 12-14, using a tablet computer to discuss tactics and team formations before a soccer match. Getty Images

This November, we are taking a look at some ways to look outside the box and hopefully get inspired by both the everyday and the atypical when it comes to work. We kicked off the month by talking with Krissi Barr, CEO of Barr Corporate Success, a business consulting company specializing in strategic planning, executive coaching, and behavioral assessments. Barr, along with her husband Dan, is the co-author of The FIDO Factor: How to Get a Leg Up at Work. The book’s core message is that by utilizing the same core values that dogs have (Faithful, Inspirational, Determined, and Observant), we can become more effective leaders at work. Last week, we kept pushing the boundaries by examining how volunteering our time to help a worthwhile organization not only makes us feel good, but can also develop current skills and learn new ones, explore careers without job hopping, and expand our networks. This week, we take a look at how participating in youth sports can help shape a lifetime of success in our work lives.

Dumb jock? Think again.

A casual search of the Internet will reveal many links on the topic of how participating in youth sports can help develop the skills that one needs in the workplace. Two excellent examples come from recent Cornell Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management studies. One found that teenagers who played sports developed stronger leadership skills, worked better in teams and demonstrated more confidence. The second used data collected from more than 900 World War II veterans and examined the long-term correlation of participation in high school sports. Specifically the study found that, “43 percent of male veterans who played varsity sports in high school had careers of “higher status” and more success in upper management jobs.” The study’s lead researcher, Kevin Kniffin even found that the skills they developed in high school were still evident many decades after they stopped playing those sports. “People who played high school sports more than 50 years after high school still seemed to demonstrate this persistent profile of more leadership, self-respect and self-confidence than people who were not part of high school sports,” said Kniffin.

An HR expert weighs in

While these studies show that those who have played youth sports have a better chance of becoming successful in the workplace, it’s important to know just what the skills are that they develop and why those skills are so important. To give us a hand with this analysis, I turned to our long-time source and local HR expert Steve Peglar for help. Peglar is Senior Vice President with WhitneySmith Company, a Fort-Worth based full-service human resources consulting firm, providing professional assistance in a variety of human resource disciplines. Peglar riffed on several topics including discipline, hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, setting and striving for goals and dealing with conflict:

On discipline / hard work / sacrifice…

“Through engaging in youth sports, kids can acquire a wide variety of life skills that ultimately transfer extremely well to the workforce later in life. From gaining the ability to deal with disappointment to learning how to focus on the task at hand, youth sports can provide kids with a head start on career success. Those hours of practice getting ready for that big game, the courage required when preparing to face a highly skilled rival team, and the need to persevere and display courage at those times when confronted with more losses than wins are all experiences that can eventually build those “soft skills” so highly desired by employers.”

On teamwork…

“One of the most valuable experiences that kids can acquire through youth sports comes through the team environment itself. Teams - just like workplaces - can be highly diverse groups, bringing together individuals from a variety of cultural and demographic backgrounds. Furthermore, both teams and workplaces are often composed of many different personality types and temperaments. Just like we often have had to work alongside those that we may not personally “like”, the odds are that there were those on our youth sports teams that we also did not like. Learning to get along with others - even if you don’t like them - is a tremendously valuable life skill, and is a critically important skill in the workplace. The chance to learn this skill early in life through a youth sports experience is ideal.”

On setting and striving for goals…

“Youth sports can also foster the ability to think strategically, which is yet another skill that is of critical value in our careers. Figuring out a strategy to defeat our opponent is a major part of our youth sports experience. Later in life, while navigating our own careers, we need to be able to make strategic plans and goals, and also develop the tactics to achieve those goals. The jobs that we hold throughout our careers also require this skill, and it can all start in our youth.”

On dealing with conflict…

“Youth sports experiences can also develop another highly critical life skill that is needed within any career, and throughout life in general, and that is the ability to deal with conflict. Competition through sport is essentially a form of conflict (although it is a “healthy” sort of conflict). Experiencing this type of interaction with others in a healthy way, and learning how to work through it and ultimately resolve it at a young age, is fantastic training for those moments later in life when confronted by an insubordinate employee, an angry customer, or even a workplace bully. Conflict itself is normal and inevitable, both in the workplace and in life, and all too often an individual seeks to avoid it, but the employee who learned early in life to deal with that “healthy” form of conflict found in youth sports is likely prepared to deal better with these situations.”

The takeaway

For many of us, it’s been decades since we participated in youth sports. Still, much like the Cornell study found, the skills we developed are hard-wired in our memory banks. If it’s been a while since we used them, we can always dust them off and put them back to use. How? Perhaps we volunteer to be on a community board or a work committee. Maybe we set a challenging sales goal. Or we can even go back to school to get a master’s degree.

And if you’re a parent like me, we all know the hyper-competitive environment that is the world of youth sports today. While there’s some negative factors associated with youth sport – injuries, poor coaching and parental pressure to name a few – the benefits that Peglar outlines above more than make up for those few negativities and can make all the difference in our child’s work life.

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