by Shaun Fuentes
I've always gotten the impression that athletes are underrated, at least in our society within the Caribbean. So okay, we love to promote the fanfare that comes with the success these athletes achieve and we fancy the opportunity toidentify with them when they are on top of their game. But take that away, from the very regular athlete who is yet to stake his claim to the one who has achieved fame, we tend to see them as just that - An athlete who knows only sport.
I strongly believe and this comes from years of close interaction with athletes at various levels, that they recognize the importance of teamwork and trust, they know how to deal with adversity and conflict, and they know how to think strategically and shift course when necessary. And these are all things that some people in high office struggle with.
Some academic research has delved into the ways athletes learn to be leaders with more research on the horizon aimed at this topic.
In one report, “Why female athletes make winning entrepreneurs,” espnW interviewed women entrepreneurs around the world who had played sports, and they said they developed leadership, confidence, single-mindedness, passion and resilience as athletes. Regarding leadership, the report noted: “The athlete entrepreneurs explain that playing sport has given them a strong grounding in what it means to be on a team — on both practical and emotional levels. And they are using that sports mindset to establish the high-performing teams required to grow their companies.”
A study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies in 2014 looked at men who had participated in varsity-level high school sports decades earlier. The study found they “appeared to demonstrate higher levels of leadership and had higher-status careers.” A little example is former Trinidad and Tobago Under 17 football captain Brendon Creed who at age 17 began his civil engineering degree at Temple University while on a football scholarship. “Throughout my 4 years, I had many experiences that prepared me to navigate life after school,” Creed said. He began tutoring at Elevat-ED Tutoring Services and then ended up teaching Math to the nation’s youth live on CNC3 during the pandemic. “My lesson in versatility continues to this day,” added Creed who still plays football.
Student-athletes gain all these skills, but the problem is that many of them are not taught how to use them outside of sports. This is where proper leadership comes in where the right guidance is provided.
Athletes gain emotional toughness, balance, integrity and the ability to have difficult conversations, said Matthew Davidson, Ph.D., president of the Institute for Excellent and Ethics (IEE) which assesses and builds leadership development and organizational culture. But athletes don’t automatically pick up these lessons, he said. “There’s no reason to believe that it just naturally happens. Sure, these are partly ‘caught,’ but they also must be intentionally taught.”
As a leader and a follower, it is important to know how to adapt to change. And this is more obvious during the current Pandemic times. Change is inevitable in any industry, especially in sports, and many people fear the idea of change because it is a disruption to the normal routine and there is a lack of certainty in leadership.
Transformational leadership is one of the most desired leadership styles in the sport industry. It's my choice based on experiences I have been fortunate enough to have. Leaders that embrace this approach put the followers’ emotions, motives, and needs before their own. In sports, change is inevitable. It requires adaptation and survival in the ever-changing sport industry.
Every year, there are coaching, administrative, personnel, and rule changes within sport organizations. Another way a transformational leader in sports can create an environment that is accepting of change is by creating depth within the organization. There is relationship depth which deals with creating more meaningful connections.
Diversity depth is the next dimension, and it includes having a variety of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and education within the organization such as past and present athletes and sport entrepreneurs .The last dimension is servanthood depth. This dimension of depth refers to the commitment of serving others. These are leaders and followers who put others first are selfless with a desire to help to whole team or organization succeed.
Here's something I will leave to ponder upon. Do you think we will see a former athlete or respected sporting personality become the Prime Minister of our country in our lifetime?
"Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success." - Mariah Burton Nelson, award-winning author and former Pro Basketball player.
"I strongly believe and this comes from years of close interaction with athletes at various levels, that they recognize the importance of teamwork and trust, they know how to deal with adversity and conflict, and they know how to think strategically and shift course when necessary. And these are all things that some people in high office struggle with."