My first boss once told me that she had hired me because I used to be a professional tennis player. I didn’t care all that much at the time (I wanted the job after all), but over the years I’ve started to wonder what that meant. Is there something about competitive sport, and athletes, that can benefit companies?
To find out, I spoke to Kihn DeMaree, director of talent at Axiom Zen, a Vancouver venture studio. DeMaree has been a recruiter for over a decade, helping companies like Facebook and Google find great talent. She has hired numerous athletes in the past, and has continued that tradition at Axiom Zen.
“We recently hired Kelly Kitzsimmons, a modern pentathlete on the Canadian National Team. She’s putting her strategy experience to work as our digital market strategist. We also hired five-time Canadian Olympian Charmaine Crooks as an advisor for global sport and event sectors.”
The question I had for her, though, was why? What is it that athletes can offer? As it turned out, quite a bit.
Here are five reasons why athletes make the best employees.
They know how to work in teams
Just about anyone that has competed in a team sport has had to learn how to play with teammates. Whether they’re pros or amateurs, without that essential skill, they will not have got very far.
“One of the reasons why I like hiring athletes is because they understand teamwork,” DeMaree says. “They’re often used to working in teams, and can help their colleagues understand the importance of working together.”
Because of this familiarity with teamwork and collaboration, athletes are also often natural born leaders in the workplace, rallying co-workers when the going gets tough and offering help and support. Consider what two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning once said: “The most valuable player is the one that makes the most players valuable.”
They have taught themselves to be resilient
From experience, I can attest to the resilience needed to succeed in sports. You can have the greatest game plan in history, but things will almost never turn out the way you expect. You will make mistakes, give up goals, and lose points. You can’t, however, dwell on these missteps. If you want to win (and not let your teammates down), you need to overcome adversity quickly.
More importantly, if you want to become a better player, you need to learn how to embrace these off-plan detours. Everyone makes mistakes, but the difference between success and failure often comes down to how you deal with those mistakes.
Have you got frustrated and discouraged? Or have you accepted those mistakes and looked at how you can use them to grow? The most successful athletes know that failure is an essential part of the development process. But don’t just take it from me. Check out what Michael Jordon once said: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
This kind of attitude can be infectious in a workplace, keeping morale and productivity high.
They have a winning attitude
Speaking of attitude, athletes often have the kind of winning mentality that can go a long way in the office. DeMaree, in fact, likens sports to start-ups, in that the right team mindset can make all the difference.
“Athletes all have the same goal, to win. This is an important mentality for an employee, especially in the tech world, where there always seems to be a race: who can build products faster; who can be the first to market; who can build the best product. Sports help develop the mindset that can get results out of often ambiguous plans,” she says.
They know how to manage their time
Athletes, particularly those that have excelled at high levels, have often grown up balancing heavy training and competition schedules with school and personal lives. Apart from getting up before the sun, this kind of tricky balancing act requires deft time management, the ability to prioritize, planning, and discipline – all of which are highly sought-after skills in a new hire.
Some of the most successful, in fact, learn to enjoy the process as much as the final product. “When you’re in the day-to-day grind, it just seems like it’s another step along the way. But I find joy in the actual process, the journey, the work. It’s not the end. It’s not the end event,” said former baseball player (and 19-time all-star) Cal Ripken, Jr.
They’re usually hard workers
“Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work,” Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt has said. And it’s true.
When a professional athlete doesn’t succeed, they don’t just throw in the towel. They look for weaknesses and problems in their game and then work even harder. What happens when they do succeed? They often work even harder, if only to stay on top.
This is the reason why DeMaree admires successful athletes, and will continue to recruit them.
“They have a history of achievement, and the kind of determination and drive that just translates really well from the sports world.”