We often focus only on winning or getting to the top of the league table in sport, but what else can playing sport teach us? Can sport teach us to build confidence, to combat setbacks or to develop our leadership skills?
In 2013, 821 global leaders – 328 of which were female, took part in a study lead by Ernst and Young, which explored how women build leadership skills through sport and how it helps to forge their business careers.
The study identified that teamwork, building confidence and dealing with setbacks were the principal lessons that female leaders learnt from sport, which helped not only to support their business careers but excel in their chosen path. Of the female leaders interviewed, 94% of CEO’s played sport and 52% played sport at University level.
It is apparent that sport and the lessons which it teaches, can be harnessed within the working world – evidenced by the 76% of female leaders interviewed, who agreed that adopting sporting behaviours and techniques in the corporate environment is an effective way of improving performance.
Clearly dealing with mistakes, obstacles, setbacks and challenges are part and parcel of competing. But how exactly do you build confidence and self-belief?
People with high levels of confidence consciously know and reflect on what they have already achieved. Visualising and recording past performances is a good exercise for anchoring these moments in the ‘memory bank’.
The champions of confidence will often emphasise their good moments with a slightly optimistic filter. These optimistic memories will then become a part of their narrative, the stories they tell themselves and believe others tell about them.
In 2019, I conducted surveys with 65 tennis players and 48 employees (legal and accountancy). This research uncovered that more than 90% of those people who rated as confident, were able to learn and move on from their mistakes. 28 of the 32 people who rated lower on confidence, were not able to move on from mistakes.
Confident people extract the valuable lessons learnt from their bad moments and then delete their failures from memory swiftly. Primarily focusing on their strengths and expecting to reach their goals with optimism. People with confidence trust their own skill and ability to accomplish the task, they don’t strive for perfection but set attainable goals and record these achievements as they progress.
Self-confident people are characteristically willing to take risks, make a stand and face up to consequences. They are generally good listeners and speak with certainty. Those who are characterised as self-confident celebrate other’s successes, are not afraid to ask for help from experts and are careful to judge others.
Surprisingly, self-confidence has a bigger, more than twice, the impact on performance levels than the influence of anxiety. In an extensive meta-analysis research project, Woodman and Hardy (2003) found self-confidence positively influenced performance in a whole range of national level sports by 24 percentage points versus the limiting influence of anxiety by -10 percentage points. This is yet another reason to support focusing on your strengths, because it can deliver bigger gains than trying to improve your weaknesses.
The following is a shortlist of the beneficial lessons people can adopt from the sporting arena to the business world.
Through sport we can learn how to: