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She’s Got Game: 5 Skills to Take from the Court to the Boardroom

Career Advice |

Welcome to Levo’s new blog series, “A League of Her Own”! As a businesswoman, former Division I athlete, and admitted over-user of the phrase “You go girl,” Carly Potock examines how athletics help us hone valuable skills in the workplace.

We’ve heard it from every five-o’clock-shadowed Little League baseball coach preaching on the big screen: “Sports teach you about life.” And when you look at the track record of successful female executives, it’s pretty clear these guys are preaching to the choir.

On May 18, espnW tweeted “Fact: 82% of female executives at Fortune 500 companies identify themselves as former HS athletes.” Forbes cited the same statistic in a 2011 article titled, “The Secret to Being a Power Woman: Play Team Sports.” Success stories don’t lie, and the truth is, women who have participated in organized sports at the high school or college level have found a way to translate that experience into success beyond athletics.

So as these highly accomplished, brilliant female executives adorn their gold medals of success in the workplace, let us take a look at the skills they honed out on the field to get there:

1. How to Set a Goal… and Reach It

“Goal” is a glamorous word with the power to send a lot of people running. Generally, the people who are fleeing are missing the same detail as the ones who aren’t reaching their goals, namely, that every long-term goal should be made up of smaller ones. Here is how it works: The end goal is put up on a pedestal and lit in all its glory. This is the glamorous (and often daunting) part. The only way to truly define this goal is to define the actionable steps to reach it. These smaller, action-oriented goals serve as stepping stones on the pathway to achieving the end goal, while also offering opportunities for small successes and to gain confidence along the way.

2. How to Swing and Miss

The most successful people are often the ones who have made the most mistakes. If you are lucky enough to snag a coffee date with any female executive, I’m sure she will tell you that it wasn’t a smooth climb to the top. And if she is an entrepreneur, I bet she will also tell you she failed more than once before striking gold. Learning how to not only cope with failure, but to do it with humility and grace while allowing it to make you better, is the foundation behind every successful woman. I’d be willing to bet every home run and strikeout on that one.

3. How to Play Well with Others

Let’s take it back to the playground days for this one. Knowing how to play well with others is key to developing the relationships that will help you grow and your team  excel. Team sports allow us to take that sandbox lesson to the next level, providing us with countless opportunities to hone our communication skills and learn how to motivate others. Furthermore, team sports are an ongoing lesson in accountability. With 10+ teammates counting on you to not just show up to practice, but to actually get better, reliability becomes the name of the game. My guess is these model women rarely let their bosses and colleagues down, and if they did, you can bet they learned from it (shout out to Lesson No. 2).

4. How to Walk Tall (and Fabulous)

There is a level of confidence unique to female athletes. We see it in experienced Olympians like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, and even in first-timers like Missy Franklin. Athletics provide us with a platform to learn how to deal with pressure, cope with anxiety and grow from constructive criticism. Overcoming these difficult moments and seeing them culminate into moments of success strengthens an athlete’s spirit. Confident people believe they will succeed because they have seen themselves do it before.

5. How to Lead

Leadership is a huge topic that could send me into a week long blogging frenzy (stay tuned, because it probably will), but the most important and underrated leadership lesson I have ever learned is this: The best leaders know themselves first. Before leading others, a leader must first understand her own strengths and weaknesses, what drives her, and what she values. One-hundred percent of executive-level female leaders know how to motivate, improve and value themselves, and that, ladies, is a real slam-dunk.

What lessons have you applied from your athletic career to your work career? Tell us in the comments section.

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Eleanor Harte

Like @collegeprepster I was on the rowing team in high school. I definitely feel that my experience with team sports in high school prepared me for college, where I am now. Being on the rowing team taught me how to get things done; when you don't have a lot of time, you quickly learn that to get anything done, you have to be productive. It taught me how to deal with frustration in a way that I can apply to other situations. Like #3 says, it taught me that I had to show up and put in my full effort, something I'm using in college now!

Carly Heitlinger

I 100% agree. Being a student athlete really gave me more skills that I can even count. I didn't get involved in team sports until high school, when I joined the rowing team and eventually switched to being a men's coxswain.

I learned so much from being a teammate. (Most of my best learning experiences came from the WORST moments on the water!) I learned a lot about how to work with others and most importantly I learned a LOT about myself!!!

Maxie McCoy

Congratulations on a first (and amazing!) article @CarlsNCharge ... We can't wait to read more from this series.

As a former collegiate athlete, I knew anecdotally the way that I could explain the skills sets that I had learned from playing sports, but wish I had statistics and bullets like these to help me convey what and asset I was "trained" to be on any team because of my 15+ years of team sports

Carly Potock

Carly is a graduate of Lehigh University and former Division I softball player. With degrees in Marketing, Business Information Systems, and Creative Writing, she has applied her passion for athletics to a career in international sports marketing. A believer in the ability to be both strong and fabulous, she has led various student-athlete organizations and spoken to youth on the benefits of competitive sports and how athletic experience contributes to success beyond the field.