It Pays to Play: Three Ways Success in Sports Can Lead to Success for Athletes at Work

September 14, 2023
  • Private Banking
Relationship Associate Scott Danforth takes a closer look at the skill sets student athletes bring with them to the workforce and how playing a college sport may translate to success in post-graduate careers.

Entering the workforce after graduating from college can be overwhelming. Not only are you entering the “real world” and assuming new responsibilities, but you will also have to learn how to navigate workplace dynamics, develop new time management skills, and know when to act as a leader or a team member.

This is daunting to anyone, but some graduates may be more prepared than they realize. Research has shown that the high-achieving mentality developed in a college athletic program can be a powerful catalyst for success in the corporate world.

A study by EY and espnW revealed that 94% of women executives at the C-suite level have a background in sports, and over half of them played at the collegiate level. Former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb captained the Stanford University soccer team. Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and current U.S. ambassador to Kenya, played squash and lacrosse at Princeton University. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan was the co-captain of the rugby team at Brown University – and this is just a small sampling of names!

While you don’t have to play a sport in college to be successful, it certainly doesn’t hurt. College athletes carry their competitive spirit into the business world, and an athlete’s determination and detail orientation are just as valuable in a boardroom as they are on the field. Between cultivating the skills of teamwork, time management, and resilience, college sports undoubtedly lay the foundation for success in the workplace.

Let’s take a closer look at what skills collegiate athletes can bring to the table, and how anyone in the workforce can learn from these transferable skills.


The primary – and perhaps most obvious – skill a former student athlete brings to the workplace is a deep understanding of teamwork. In high-level individual and team sports alike, athletes are constantly pushed to leverage each other’s strengths in order to achieve a common goal. A crucial element of teamwork is holding individual weight to contribute to the greater good. If an athlete missteps, the whole team suffers.

This mentality translates into the workplace, where collaboration and communication are integral to success. College athletes understand the meaning of putting a team over individual accomplishments and, upon entering the workforce, are able to translate those skills into group projects and team-based problem-solving.

Transitioning to the workplace, an environment often focused on team success, may be challenging for many recent graduates, who have often spent their academic careers focused on personal success. An understanding of teamwork and collaboration may help make the transition somewhat smoother and easier for college athletes.

Time Management

With demanding schedules, discipline and time management are key qualities that athletes develop through their high school and college careers. On top of a normal curriculum load, college athletes are required to juggle practices, conditioning sessions, and competitions.

Maintaining such a complex schedule requires individuals to learn how to balance assignment deadlines with elements such as long-distance traveling tournaments – and a failure to do so can result in poor performance on and off the field. Student athletes, therefore, must remain detail-oriented and meticulous, planning their schedules ahead of time and learning to prioritize.

Managing tight deadlines and balancing a workload while staying focused on short- and long-term goals are skills that college athletes can leverage to make their transition into full-time employment more successful. 


College athletes must be prepared to experience as many – and sometimes more – defeats as they do victories. Learning how to cope with setbacks and bounce back stronger leads to a firm sense of perseverance and resilience. When facing a setback in their athletic career, students are forced to address challenges with a positive attitude.

This mental resilience translates into the workplace, where it is proven that employees who show determination even after failure or adversity are able to excel past their peers. Emotional resilience is also crucial when transitioning into the workplace, where one must be able to stay balanced and manage various personalities and emotions. Student athletes may have resilient traits that allow them to navigate this new terrain early in their career.

Locker Room Lessons for Everyone

Participating in college sports can help individuals develop qualities needed for success in the office. How can nonathletes replicate this advantage? Here are some pages you can take from a college athlete’s book to adopt a similar mindset:

  • Cultivate Passion: At the heart of what drives an athlete’s determination and success is passion for their sport, and this passion can help them succeed in their post-grad careers. To maintain focus and drive in all aspects of your work, you need to have some level of passion. Caring deeply about your work inherently means you will be more driven to succeed, less likely to back down in the face of obstacles, and more likely to be conscientious and detail-oriented in what you do.
  • Welcome Coaching: A central figure in any student athlete’s life is their coach. On a college sports team, you quickly learn that being open to feedback – and seeking it out – is necessary to improving. While you may be reluctant to open yourself to potential criticism, feedback from a boss or mentor is invaluable for the learning moments it provides. Moreover, developing relationships with mentors will show your team and managers that you are always willing to learn and driven to succeed.
  • Know When to Step Back: Just as important as being able to lead a team is knowing how and when to follow the leader. If every athlete tries to be the one making every call every time, chaos ensues. The best teams are ones that can comfortably shift leadership roles from player to player, moment to moment, and game to game. This mindset of shared leadership applies to teams off the field, too. Knowing when it’s your job to step back so that someone else on your team can step up is essential to achieving a goal.

College athletes know that success is not automatically achieved; it’s earned through dedication and hard work. This mindset is seen in the workplace, as college sports alumni take on challenges and seek to achieve excellence early in their careers. They often possess valuable skills that every recent graduate, not only former student athletes, can cultivate as they prepare to enter the workforce.

For more information on setting yourself up for success and managing your goals, reach out to our Next Generation Experience team.

Up Next
Up Next

HSA and FSAs: Planning for Your Healthcare Needs

Senior Relationship Associates Sean Kennedy and Lucy Townend discuss the key differences between HSA and FSA plans so you can best plan for the future.

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (“BBH”) may be used to reference the company as a whole and/or its various subsidiaries generally.  This material and any products or services may be issued or provided in multiple jurisdictions by duly authorized and regulated subsidiaries.  This material is for general information and reference purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice and is not intended as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy securities, services or investment products.  Any reference to tax matters is not intended to be used, and may not be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, or other applicable tax regimes, or for promotion, marketing or recommendation to third parties. All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed, and reliance should not be placed on the information presented.  This material may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted, or any of the content disclosed to third parties, without the permission of BBH.  All trademarks and service marks included are the property of BBH or their respective owners. © Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. 2023.  All rights reserved. PB-06695-2023-09-01

As of June 15, 2022 Internet Explorer 11 is not supported by

Important Information for Non-U.S. Residents

You are required to read the following important information, which, in conjunction with the Terms and Conditions, governs your use of this website. Your use of this website and its contents constitute your acceptance of this information and those Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree with this information and the Terms and Conditions, you should immediately cease use of this website. The contents of this website have not been prepared for the benefit of investors outside of the United States. This website is not intended as a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any security or other financial instrument or any investment management services for any investor who resides in a jurisdiction other than the United States1. As a general matter, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. and its subsidiaries (“BBH”) is not licensed or registered to solicit prospective investors and offer investment advisory services in jurisdictions outside of the United States. The information on this website is not intended to be distributed to, directed at or used by any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to law or regulation. Persons in respect of whom such prohibitions apply must not access the website.  Under certain circumstances, BBH may provide services to investors located outside of the United States in accordance with applicable law. The conditions under which such services may be provided will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by BBH. BBH will only accept investors from such jurisdictions or countries where it has made a determination that such an arrangement or relationship is permissible under the laws of that jurisdiction or country. The existence of this website is not intended to be a substitute for the type of analysis described above and is not intended as a solicitation of or recommendation to any prospective investor, including those located outside of the United States. Certain BBH products or services may not be available in certain jurisdictions. By choosing to access this website from any location other than the United States, you accept full responsibility for compliance with all local laws. The website contains content that has been obtained from sources that BBH believes to be reliable as of the date presented; however, BBH cannot guarantee the accuracy of such content, assure its completeness, or warrant that such information will not be changed. The content contained herein is current as of the date of issuance and is subject to change without notice. The website’s content does not constitute investment advice and should not be used as the basis for any investment decision. There is no guarantee that any investment objectives, expectations, targets described in this website or the  performance or profitability of any investment will be achieved. You understand that investing in securities and other financial instruments involves risks that may affect the value of the securities and may result in losses, including the potential loss of the principal invested, and you assume and are able to bear all such risks.  In no event shall BBH or any other affiliated party be liable for any direct, incidental, special, consequential, indirect, lost profits, loss of business or data, or punitive damages arising out of your use of this website. By clicking accept, you confirm that you accept  to the above Important Information along with Terms and Conditions.

1BBH sponsors UCITS Funds registered in Luxembourg, in certain jurisdictions. For information on those funds, please see

captcha image

Type in the word seen on the picture

I am a current investor in another jurisdiction