Lloyd Henry has run the Boston Marathon and finished six Ironman triathlons. So, he knows a thing or two about endurance, a skill that’s also come handy while overseeing his D.C.-based sports-training company, OnPoint Fitness (202-271-1633).
“In sports, you may have a competitor you have to outlast when you’re both trying to race for the top spot; you have to dig in deep and go further,” says Henry, 35. “In business, you may be competing with someone else for the same opportunity or position, but if you have a stronger resolve and deeper base, you can outlast the competition.”
Athletes become well versed in teamwork, goal setting and training during their time on the playing field. But the same skills and strengths that can help them rack up points or superstar stats can also lead to success in the boardroom or on the sales floor.
“You can beat the tar out of us and all we do is keep coming back,” says Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, author of the new book “Playbook for Success” ($25, John Wiley & Sons). “Athletes are resourceful and resilient. We’re wired to win and wired to take instruction, and more and more companies are hiring athletes because we’re very coachable.”
Becoming a tennis phenom or ace pitcher takes a lot of hard work and practice. The same holds true for public speaking or making cold calls. Athletes are used to putting in a lot of hours in the weight room, at the gym or on the field, so they understand the importance of preparation and training.
“You’re going to have talents, but you still have to practice your talents,” says Melissa Fireman, co-founder and CEO of Washington Career Services (240-421-2108). “And just like athletes study tapes about their opponents, it’s just as important to study and research companies where you may be interviewing or working, to gain as much information as possible before you go in there.”
Experience on a sports team definitely comes in handy at the office, where employees often work in groups. “You understand that no matter who’s having a bad day or who’s off their game, you still all have to work together and sometimes compensate for other people to achieve the goal of winning,” says Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at the George Washington University School of Business.
But even athletes who’ve participated in more individual sports, like running or swimming, can bring a healthy competitive spirit to the table. “Competition keeps you from becoming complacent,” says Kathy Coutinho, 40, a chiropractor who owns Annandale-based Positively Chiropractic (703-642-8685) and competes in off-road triathlons. “It keeps you sharp, and if you’re not sharp, you will not survive, especially in this economy. The best thing, to me, is having lots of chiropractors. It just makes me stay sharp and not become complacent. Complacency is almost like a disease.”
And all those races run and games played give athletes plenty of opportunity to experience failure and success. “You have to take risks in sports and accept failure, and those who succeed in the workplace also understand that,” Neirotti says. “You have to accept it and move on if something doesn’t work; you have to get back up and try it again.”
Athletes also understand how much they can learn when things don’t go their way. “I always take a negative and make it a positive,” Lieberman says. “Why didn’t I get the sale? Did I know enough about the customers? When we win, we don’t evaluate ourselves as well as we do when we don’t get the sale or make the play.”
But knowing how you succeeded can be just as important as knowing what caused you to fail. “When you reach a goal, you need to know how you can duplicate it,” Henry says. “You have to be accountable — to know what you’ve done in the past that brought success and what you tried that didn’t.”
Having a coach is an awful lot like having a supervisor, so athletes gain valuable experience in taking direction from all kinds of personalities, whether it be someone known for his or her quick temper (think Bobby Knight) or Zen-like philosophy (think Phil Jackson).
“My coach was sort of a dictator — it was her way or the highway,” says Susanne Maurer, 32, co-founder and COO of Washington Career Services, who played softball while attending the University of Mary Washington. “I ended up having a supervisor like that. But because of my experiences with my coach … I learned not to take things personally and to realize that he wanted what was good for the company, like my coach had wanted what was good for the team.”
Whether you’re running marathons today or played a sport while in college, don’t be afraid to spotlight that fact. “I encourage people to leave it on their resumes,” Fireman says. “It shows a certain level of discipline, focus and drive, all things that employers look for.”
You don’t have to be LeBron James or Derek Jeter; sometimes thinking like a champion is all it takes. “You have to always keep trying your best,” Coutinho says. “No matter how you do, if you keep doing your best, you’ll succeed.”
Written by Express contributor Beth Luberecki
Photos by Jason Hornick for Express