What do 95 percent of today’s Fortune 500 CEOs have in common? They all played sports as young adults. Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb played soccer at Stanford, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket at Madras Christian College, and even Mark Zuckerberg was a high school fencing star.


This correlation should come as no surprise. A study completed at Cornell University found that “teenagers who played sports developed stronger leadership skills, worked better in teams and demonstrated more confidence.”

For many, participation in sports provided a framework for growth that has cultivated a strong sense of leadership.

Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who played tennis at Baylor University, appreciates how much the sport taught him about business. “Tennis,” says Hurd, “is a space where you have to go out every day, rain or shine, and you’ve got to perform. It’s just like the business world.”

Whether you’re a star athlete or you simply dabble in competitive sports for the fun of it, sports participation develops leadership attributes that inherently translate into the workplace.

Here are four leadership skills learned through athletics that have proven beneficial to today’s business leaders.

1. Teamwork

Although this may seem obvious, the ability to work in a team is one of the basic competencies that sports can instill in today’s future business leaders.

Teamwork helps motivate individuals to do their part to aid their group in reaching its overall goal.

In addition, it also teaches participants to recognize and build upon the strengths of their teammates while encouraging them to work as a unit.

Individuals expressing a sound understanding of teamwork are often good at task delegation, which successful leaders do everyday.

A collection of team builders in a work environment can positively influence projects, campaigns, employee engagement and motivation.

2. Organization

It’s no question that student athletes manage jam-packed schedules and are required to practice time management skills to juggle everything on their plate.

In fact, student athletes dedicate anywhere from 29-36 hours per week to their athletic endeavors.

To effectively manage work and athletic commitments, student athletes have long been honing vital time management skills that are thenceforth brought into the workplace.

In turn, leaders develop strategies to make sure work is done effectively and efficiently on their watch, no matter how many tasks they’re in charge of overseeing.

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3. Communication

Communication skills are crucial for leaders to sufficiently offer motivation and recognize the work done by their departments and teams. The same is true of athletes.

Communicating with coaching staff and teammates is necessary for sports players, as it fosters an understanding of the team’s strategies, goals and opportunities for growth.

As sports players transform into functional leaders, they’re able to bring this understanding to the workplace.

When leaders possess effective communication skills, they’re able to inspire employees and align them to the company’s vision.

In addition, positive communication channels in the workplace have been shown to facilitate higher levels of employee productivity and performance.

4. Self-discipline

On an individual level, sports teach their players a sense of self-discipline and awareness.

Athletes are constantly aware of what they need to practice, whether it’s perfecting their baseball batting stance or improving their endurance in order to run up and down the soccer field.

Participating in sports may be challenging, but it allows players to face the challenge at hand head-on and take a critical look at their contribution to the team as well as any areas in which they require improvement.

The same skills are valuable to future leaders, as they are able to acknowledge imperfections and work to improve and develop new skills.

Leadership skills are important both on and off the field. Participating in sports as a teen is widely beneficial and continues to carry value into adulthood.

Whatever the reason, it is more and more apparent that starting on the court or field may be the best path to the boardroom.

How Can Sports Teach Leadership Skills?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Amanda Peterson
Contributor to Enlightened Digital and software engineer from the one, the only New York City. When I’m not trying to find the best record store in the city, you can find me curling up to watch some Netflix with my Puggle, Hendrix.
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