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Swapping Sport for the C-Suite

Athletes are known for their outstanding leadership on the field of play, but does this mean they are cut out for leadership in business?

In heat of the action, the skills are clear to see: resilience, commitment, discipline, teamwork, all working in harmony to allow athletes to beat the competition, break records and win titles.

Many executives feel these skills are transferable to the corporate environment, and it’s a sentiment that fits with my own experiences as a former professional rugby player.

In my first career, life was all about training to get into the best physical condition possible. Come match day, I would put my body on the line time and again, and make big calls at key moments so that the team put points on the board. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I was developing attributes that I fall back on every day in my current role as a company director.

Research paints a similar picture: a 2017 Human Kinetics study found that student-athletes scored significantly higher than non-athletic students in transformational leadership. An EY/ESPNW survey concludes that sport helps to accelerate a woman’s career, with 61% of those polled saying that playing sports contributed to their success as executives.

“Sport teaches intangible leadership skills that can’t be taught in the classroom,” explained then Global Vice Chair for Public Policy at EY, Beth Brooke-Marciniak.

But it’s not simply a case of putting down the ball and picking up the briefcase. The vast majority of athletes face a range of complex challenges when they move on from pro sport. Besides coming to terms with leaving the job they love, athletes must learn to adapt to whole new working systems if they are to enjoy a rewarding life beyond the playing field. This is where Athlete Career Transition comes in.

Athlete Career Transition

Athlete Career Transition (ACT) gives athletes the guidance they need to bridge the gap between careers. This is achieved through ACT’s comprehensive support pathway, pillars of which include:

Spotlight on talent

We pinpoint raw talents and condition these into skill-sets to enable the individual to maintain high performance no matter what sector they step into.

Behavioural and strengths assessments allow us to create individual profiles so that athletes can be placed in environments appropriate to character and personal drivers.

Transition handrail

ACT’s Transition Support Programme ensures athletes are ready for their new world of work in body and mind.

This begins with education on the difficulties athletes may face as they break away from familiar surroundings. We then move into coaching and building resources so that candidates can take the initiative on their transition with positivity and confidence.

Skills development

ACT provides the tools athletes need to fully showcase their abilities and access the maximum range of opportunities.

We guide their communication and tech literacy, enabling athletes to build their personal brand online and stand out from the competition.

Leaders for life

ACT’s methodology has allowed countless sports pros to transition successfully, such as Nzingha Prescod, a former fencer who represented the USA at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Through ACT, Nzingha entered an internship programme with global services provider, EY, where she not only works as a senior consultant but has also set up the Prescod Institute for Sport Teamwork and Education, a not for profit organisation which teaches children the sport of fencing and its principles of discipline, strategic thinking, problem solving, and fitness and improve access to quality education youth in under-resourced communities.

“I’ve had great support from ACT throughout my transition from sport into business,” Nzingha said.

“Always striving to be the best I can be and bringing out the best in people around me has been so important to me in my sports career. That all fits perfectly with EY’s purpose of ‘building a better working world’, Nzingha added.

We have no shortage of success stories at ACT, but they can only happen with the right people and structures in place.

Enterprises get a pipeline of recruits who are leadership-ready, while athletes evolve out of sport towards exciting new horizons.


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