Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Sports prepare women for life, business

I attended a virtual panel presentation recently in Minneapolis about women in sports, which highlighted the important benefits of participation.

One of the panelists cited a study that discovered nearly 90% of women in C-suite positons in companies have a sports background.  The moderator, Mary Jo Kane, a retired professor in the School of Kinesiology and the former director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, both at the University of Minnesota, asked the four panelists what role sports play in developing this executive skill set.

Everyone mentioned mental toughness and resiliency, which translate to all aspects of life, especially business. 

Mental toughness is persevering through difficult circumstances, conditioning your mind to think confidently and being able to overcome frustration.  Athletes must be in tip-top physical shape, but if they don’t prepare themselves mentally, they will never become champions. 

Mental toughness needs to be exercised to grow and develop.  Get out of your comfort zone by taking on new tasks, and then seek out other duties to test your determination.   

As for resilience, nearly all the successful people I know have dealt with defeat, slumps, failures, change and adversities of every nature.  The reason they are successful in spite of all that is they had the confidence and courage to face those setbacks and find a way to overcome them, whether it was pure stubbornness or refusal to admit defeat. 

Successful businesspeople, however, know that even if adversity strikes, they can work around it.  They are resilient.  The strong survive not because they are determined to conduct business as usual, but because they find ways to rise above the issue at hand.  

Remember, you can’t live life with an eraser.  You can’t anticipate every possible problem, no matter how hard you try.  But you can resolve to face challenges as they arise. 

The panelists also discussed teamwork, goal setting, hard work and the importance of having mentors.

“Sports teach you about wins, losses and failures,” said Pam Borton, CEO of PBP Consulting Group, and former head coach of the women’s basketball teams at the Universities of Minnesota and Vermont.  “As a coach, you have to build highly skilled teams.  You learn how to hire, fire and recruit.  All these skills are transferrable to business.  As leaders you learn how to help people and enhance people skills.”

Laura Day, executive vice president and chief business officer of the Minnesota Twins, said she learned to “surround herself with champions – both men and women.  You also need to be comfortable with change.  Sports unlock a lot of things.”  She mentioned that she is curious by nature and has an insatiable desire to learn.

Day added: “Culture is important because you can thrive in an organization that shares your values.  It’s tough to fit a square peg into a round hole.”

Lisa Lissimore, associate director of the Minnesota State High School League, said you learn a lot from winning and losing and tackling challenges.  Sports gave her the confidence she needed because she had a complex about being tall and skinny growing up.  Sports also allowed her to work with a variety of people.

Julie Manning, executive associate director of Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota said she learned grit from competing in sports.  “You stay in there when you get knocked down.  You have to perform under pressure with calmness.  There is always a sense of urgency, but you must remain calm.

“Sports teach you to solve problems.  For example, if you have a bad tee shot on the golf course, you have to think about how to get out of that situation.  Sports also builds consensus.  You learn to strive to get better every day,” Manning added.

So what can parents and grandparents do to help their daughters and granddaughters be successful going forward?

Manning talked about her older brother who always told his daughter to dream big and then dream bigger.

Day also talked about “feeding your dreams.  Tell your daughters and granddaughters to stay positive.  Trust yourself.  Many people are willing to help, so don’t be afraid to ask them.”

Borton also mentioned the importance of being role models for your children and to provide support and encouragement.  “Everyone needs positive reinforcement,” she said.

“We need to make visions of possibilities available to young women,” Lissimore said.  “You can do a lot of things if you put your mind to it.”

Truly, it’s mind over matter.

Mackay’s Moral:  Training for sports is good training for business and life.

About the Author Harvey Mackay, Founder & CEO

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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