5 Lessons Former Athletes Can Use In A Second Career

When a former athlete transitions to a career after sports it is a huge adjustment. Going from training and competing on a daily basis to a more sedentary lifestyle of sitting at a desk certainly takes a physical toll. There is also an effect on his or her emotional well-being as winding down from the adrenaline rush that game day provides is challenging. These changes combined with trying to find a second career make for a stressful time in one’s life.

Adjusting to a new career is stressful in and of itself, but there are many former athletes who have made the transition and achieved great success in their new roles. Some notable former athletes who have risen to the top of their careers include: former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb (captain of Stanford soccer team), Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman (varsity lacrosse and squash at Princeton), PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (cricket in college), Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan (rugby at Brown) and Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld (basketball at Cornell) to name a few.

There are many reasons that participation in sports, especially at a highly competitive level, translates to success in the business world (or whatever industry you embark upon in your second career). Among these reasons include: athletics builds character, sporting organizations help with networking and sports often reflect privilege, according to CNBC’s Abigail Hess.

Someone who can attest to applying lessons learned from sports to a business career is former professional lacrosse player Drew Westervelt. After a 10-year playing career, Westervelt joined the corporate world. In his role as the COO of HEX, a laundry detergent designed for the type of synthetic fibers from which athletic material is now commonly made.

Westervelt drew on his experience as an athlete to find and solve an issue – standard laundry detergent was not able to adequately wash his equipment and apparel. He credits his athletic career for establishing a work ethic and teaching him lessons that have helped him succeed in his second career. In an article with Abigail Hess, he provided five lessons from sports that applied to his career in business.

Be prepared.

An athlete’s playing career does not last forever; often times it is cut short due to injury or other circumstances. Because of this, it is critical to have a long-term plan. Although there is no blueprint for people to follow in terms of career path, proper planning for the next step (a life after sports) will ease this transition process.

In business, especially at a start-up company like HEX, there are challenges. Westervelt made sure his product was perfect before pitching it to retailers, setting him up for success. “The worst thing in life is being unprepared. Implementing lessons learned is key to growth and being better moving forward.”

Be persistent.

“Staying positive to keep driving forward is what the process is all about. Each challenge is a learning experience you can build from and grow from,” said Westervelt. The job search and career transition can be full of failure and rejection, but by staying persistent you will achieve success.

Transitioning to a new career after being a professional athlete is a difficult experience. Even embarking on a new career path once in the professional world can be challenging. The key is having a positive outlook and being persistent in your search. Just as a football player might drop a pass in the end zone, he will have to recover and be prepared to make the catch next time.

Trust your team.

The old adage “There’s no ‘I’ in team” rings true in the business world. In a company, your colleagues make up your new “team.” Not even the best workers can do everything on their own, so trusting your teammates is essential.

As an athlete, you practice so when the game rolls around you are prepared for your opponent both mentally and physically. In business, Westervelt suggests “surrounding yourself with great people and identify team goals and metrics to achieve those goals is key.” While you aren’t preparing your game plan for how to take stop an opponents power hitter, your team could be preparing for a big sales pitch. By trusting and respecting your colleagues you can still “win” at the game of business.

Ask for feedback – and listen.

Throughout your career as an athlete it can be assumed that you have had a great deal of coaching. These individuals have helped you make adjustments to a swing/shot/approach and set you up for success on the field of play. Coaches also teach you important life lessons such as preparedness and the importance of a strong work ethic. Asking a coach for feedback on how you can improve a certain aspect of your game might provide you with more information and even allow you to consider an alternate perspective.

Coaching and seeking feedback should not stop once an athlete’s playing career is over – these lessons can also be applied to business. When first starting out, it is common for new employees to go through a training period with colleagues who serve as a “coach.” In many companies, executives hold performance reviews for employees in which they solicit feedback. From these meetings you can determine whether or not there is a need to change things moving forward, making you a stronger employee.

While some feedback, especially constructive, might be hard to hear at first, it ultimately helps us become better workers and even better people.

Lead, don’t follow

One of the key traits shared by leaders is self-confidence – which often translates from the field to the office. Westervelt says, “Believe in your ability and have the confidence to make your value seen by actions to drive your team or business. Create a compelling case for why you or your business is needed and solves a problem for consumers.”

Transitioning to a life in the boardroom instead of the locker room is difficult, so it is only natural to have some reservations and self-doubt. However, if you push those thoughts aside and believe in yourself you are more able to achieve success.

It is no secret why employers like hiring former athletes, as can be seen by the core attributes of athlete-candidates from our friends over at NexGoal. The lessons learned on the field of play through years of competition are not lost once a playing career ends. Instead, they are transferred to a new sport – business.

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