Playing High School Varsity Sports May Help Make Players Winners in Business

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The lessons learned playing varsity sports in high school appear to carry over into the workplace, even some 60 years down the road.

Cornell University researchers found that former high school varsity athletes seemed to have higher-status jobs, volunteered more in the community and donated to charity more frequently than nonathletes. The results formed the basis for "Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlates of Participation in High School Athletics," by Kevin M. Kniffin, Brian Wansink and Mitsuru Shimizu and published in June in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.

A previous small study by the researchers showed that people expect former student athletes to be better leaders compared with people who were active in school activities outside of sports.

"Previous research has shown that people who played a high school sport tend to have higher salaries at mid-career points," Kevin M. Kniffin, the study's lead investigator, a postdoctoral research associate in the Lab for Experimental Economics and Decision Research at Cornell University. "The new article sheds light on the reasons why that relationship exists," he says.

In addition to being team players and leaders and being competitive, former high school athletes interviewed for Mainstreet say they carry over other traits into business that they learned through playing high-level sports.

As the captain of his high school varsity team, Trey Ditto "had to learn what motivates different players to play their best," he says. Trey who later played D1 soccer at West Point, says, "Being an athlete allowed me to look at a game, understand what was working and what wasn't, make necessary adjustments and give our team the best opportunity to win." He now runs his own PR agency, Ditto Public Affairs.

"The interaction with different personalities on and off the court created a capacity for leading people from all backgrounds," says K. L. Herald, who owns a leadership development training firm. "The skills gained from working as a team to achieve the overall goal are the keys skills I use as a professional today."

Jason R. Tate, a financial planner at Jason Tate Financial Consulting who went to college on a baseball scholarship, learned how to get out of a sales or prospecting slump another from playing ball: becoming more aggressive. "Aggressiveness will get the athlete/businessperson into a mode of pro-action that will enable them to breakthrough to a new level," he says. In baseball, in a hitting slump, he'd swing at more pitches. It's an attitude of being proactive, he says.

As varsity captain of her field hockey team for two years, Carrie Brummern says that she learned "how to navigate group dynamics/politics, the importance of a shared mission, as well as how to give 110% to [her] work." Currently, she teaches people how to develop their own creativity at her website, ArtistThink.

Thomas Robert Clarke, a Philadelphia area photographer, played varsity football and baseball for four years in the hotly competitive Texas market and was captain of his varsity soccer team, as well. "I learned numerous life lessons from athletics," he says, including "the value of leadership, but also that being a leader didn't mean I had to do everything myself, and I learned how to be honest with what I can and can't do well. From that came delegation skills and the ease of being able to lead, follow, or get out of the way."

--Written by S.Z. Berg for MainStreet

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