How Sports Can Teach Workplace Leadership Skills

    On October 9, 2012, the San Francisco Giants needed a hero. They found one in Hunter Pence. 

    The team had just lost its first two home games and things in Game 3 weren’t looking much better. On the verge of heading home from a disappointingly brief playoff run, the players were crushed. That’s when outfielder and relatively new teammate Pence took initiative to turn things around.  

    After gathering his teammates in the locker room, Pence gave a courageous, inspiring pep talk. Emphasizing teamwork, cooperation, and a desire to “play one more day with you guys,” he managed to inject the team with a needed dose of enthusiasm. Fired up, the guys went on to close out a 10-inning Game 3 win, with Pence becoming the requisite hero of the evening.

    In that brief chat, Pence demonstrated all the leadership skills athletes can gain by playing sports. Moreover, he showed how players can utilize those skills on — or off — the field. Here are some examples of how you, your children, or your spouse can gain workplace leadership skills by playing sports.


    Perhaps the most obvious skill, teamwork is integral to the success of athletes as well as business professionals. Company executives need to form a strategic vision, share it with their colleagues, and provide inspiration and direction for their employees. Employees need to recognize their role in the larger picture and determine how they can fit into that role in conjunction with their workmates. Amway encompasses this concept of partnership in its business model by encouraging colleagues to work collaboratively, to help one another, and to research products with each other to find optimum sales opportunities. Unlike some business opportunities, Amway relies on this cooperation rather than practicing a pyramid scheme mentality. Instead of relying on teammates bringing new employees through the door, the company relies on the actual sale of commercial products, thereby emphasizing the importance of cooperation instead of competition. With Amway, you don’t have to wonder: is it a scam?

    Decision Making

    Playing sports necessitates decision making — frequently. Whether it be the race car driver who must decide which lane to speed into, the football quarterback that must choose who to pass the ball to, or the soccer player who must decide to scrimmage left or right, athletes must learn to make decisions by studying and interpreting information quickly. Effective leaders must rely on these skills as well, figuring out ways to influence others, be decisive, establish goals, and solve problems efficiently to make sure the company stays ahead.


    When Pence decided to give that speech to his teammates, he spoke eloquently, effectively, and with passion. No doubt this inspired the other players to do their best and created a sense of unity that had been missing before. All great leaders must possess this same skill. They must know how and when to recognize their employees, how and when to be stern or flexible, how to motivate, and how to discipline. Both verbal and non-verbal communication skills are essential for success on the court, field, track, or pool as well. Some CEOs, including Omar Tawakol of Voicera, claim communication is one of the most important and underrated business skills.

    Strategy Development

    Effective leaders assess situations and build a strategy to move forward. Sometimes this must be done spontaneously, such as when a natural disaster strikes or a customer acts irrationally. Other times, such as when setting a strategic plan or forming a new policy, a leader must consult her subordinates and collect information before making a decision. Playing sports presents many of these same opportunities. For example, when a basketball player has an opening to make a basket, he takes it. To pause and weigh his options would be counterproductive to his team’s chances of winning. In other cases, a team must form a game plan ahead of time and then execute it with precision. Leaders in all industries must use these same strategies to ensure the longevity of the team.

    Choosing to be a leader in the workplace, whether it’s as a professional sales representative or the captain of a team, means exercising numerous skills. Having the opportunity to practice these skills through sports paves the way to a long, successful career in leadership.


    • Tom La Vecchia

      Founder of New Theory & X Factor Media

      Founder and Publisher of New Theory Magazine and Podcast. Serial Entrepreneur who loves wine, cigars and anything that allows to people to connect and share experiences.

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