What I Learned as a Student-Athlete That Helped Me Prepare for the Working World

Written by: Hayley Kerr

Entering the working world can be intimidating. With a multitude of unknowns, honing in on what you’re confident in – your relevant expertise – is essential. Growing up as an athlete, and continuing through college, I learned pertinent life lessons that helped shape me as a person and prepare me for the challenges I may face in the ‘real world.’ Below I’ve outlined three skills I gained as an athlete that aided in my transition into the workforce :

Communication Is Key

The best teams communicate. Some of the greatest opponents I encountered weren’t necessarily the most skilled, but were masters of communication. My coaches always emphasized, “Communicate often and with a purpose.” Yelling to make noise and distract the other team is pointless. The success of a team hinges on its ability to work together effectively, and communication is one of the best ways to do so. The same thing applies when interacting with colleagues. Communicate, communicate often, and communicate with a purpose. When offering commentary, make sure it adds value to the conversation or asks a valuable question. Another aspect of communication is speaking up when you need help. Being on a sports team taught me that it’s ok not to understand something right away, but to ask for help. By articulating to your coworkers that you’re confused, not only will you get clarity on what you didn’t understand, but it will show them that you’re proactive and eager to learn.

Be a Team Player

One of the greatest skills I learned as an athlete is how to be a team player. Being on a team, of any sort, means working with a wide variety of individuals. People learn differently, take criticism differently, prefer to be recognized differently, and play differently. Knowing your teammates and colleagues individually, and how they best respond to unique situations, is critical for success. In college, my lacrosse team was made up of both serious and lax (pun intended) players. The more laid-back members played best when making jokes and laughing on the field, while the more serious players needed extreme focus and game-only conversations to play well. Recognizing and accepting these differences furthered the success of my team. Similarly, in a work environment some people prefer isolation and silence while others thrive with constant communication and loud music. There is not a right or wrong answer, but playing to each other’s strengths will ultimately help your team flourish.

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“If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.” If you’re an athlete, this is a phrase you live by. In sports, there was always a consequence to being late, whether it was running, burpees, or standing on the sideline and watching your team run – easily the worst punishment. “Show up early, ready, start fast,” was the first line in a chant all the athletes at my alma mater had memorized. In the working world, I find timeliness especially important when meeting with current and potential clients. It sets a precedent for the rest of your meeting and a good first impression, while demonstrating your eagerness to work together and seriousness about the relationship or potential relationship.

I am beyond grateful for my time as a student-athlete and the skills I learned along the way. While this is specific to my time as an athlete, this knowledge can be gained during a variety of life experiences. Be confident in your abilities and the lessons you have learned along the way, as they have definite value to current and potential employers.