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Sports + Leadership + Community

Most athletes will never make it to the pros. But they can all become leaders.

Despite the amount of money pouring into youth programs and select teams the numbers are stacked against athletes, while being stacked in favor of executive leadership.

According to the NCAA, in most sports less than 8% of high school athletes become NCAA athletes and of those collegiate athletes less than 10% will go pro in their sport. Meanwhile, research conducted by Ernst & Young in 2016 showed a disproportionate number of CEOs played sports when they were younger. In fact, 90% of women surveyed among 821 high-level executives participated in sports.

 It’s no coincidence athletes become leaders. Teamwork, collaboration, accountability, communication and the ability to motivate are core competencies of winning teams. It’s true at every level: high school, select, rec-league, college and in the professional ranks. 

Leadership qualities show up everywhere in sports which is why the Elkhorn Athletic Association hosted their first Women’s Leadership Forum for an audience that included coaches, young athletes, parents and business leaders. I was honored to moderate a panel of success women with sports ties and be the keynote speaker and provide 5 Communication and Leadership Lessons from Sports. Find out what they are right here. 

Each panelist shared unique perspective on how their sports participation developed leadership skills they use today. While the conversation started with sports you can make a direct correlation to the mindset, confidence, or skills needed as leaders.  

Monica Basiljevac, a former collegiate athlete and Board President & Executive Director Football For The World-USA reiterated how important sports is for empowering girls and young women. “Sports allows you to be who you are, and sports participation allows girls to learn what it means to be competitive and unapologetic.”  

For Autumn Pruitt a former college athlete and Owner of Hardy Coffee Company in Omaha, Nebraska,conversations with her parents when she was in high school showed her the importance of not imposing artificial limits on ourselves. “The sky is not the limit,” she says, “but your abilities are usually further than you think.”

When Deb Gray reflected on her time as a high school volleyball standout and collegiate athlete she noted the importance of learning how to relate to people. “Sports teaches you how to deal with people. You’re not always going to get along with your teammates or the people you work with, but you have to find a way to come together as a team.” 

Well-meaning and supportive parents don’t always know the best way to support their young athletes. Wanting to offer feedback and support is different from knowing the best way to deliver those messages. Giving feedback can be a tricky conversation for everyone including parents, coaches, managers, and CEOs. In other words, leaders need to know how to give feedback.

That’s where Stacey Falk the Executive Director, Elkhorn Public Schools stepped in. She is the mother of three boys and outlined her process for talking to her kids after games. “Start with open-ended questions like, ‘What did you think about the game?’” Stacey suggests. “Then ask what they learned and focus on what’s ahead by asking what they’ll do about it in practice this week. The key is letting your child do the talking and drive the conversation. If he or she gets too hard on themselves, help guide the conversation back to the proper perspective.” 

Use these takeaways to spark conversations with your team. Maybe it’s a sports team or maybe it’s the team of people you work with, manage or even live with and call family members. Look for messages that resonate, conversations you need to be having and how your own sports participation can help.


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