Leverage Your Experience! The Real Power of Sport


Sports are a powerful force in our society.  We get united through sports; it keeps us healthy, it provides us entertainment, we develop relationships, we learn values and it provides us with endless opportunities in the form of education, business and overall life experiences.   Ironically, those that can leverage the greatest outcomes from their sport experiences, elite and professional athletes, are the ones that sit on the sidelines and miss out.  Many of them simply don’t harness or recognize the leverage they have, or know how to access it.  Sadly, in many instances, sport uses them.   Sports should provide opportunity for all athletes, especially those that dedicate themselves to reach the peak of their profession.  But we need to change the traditional view of how athletes are developed and moulded.   

Our culture and society values the sport.  For athletes the power of sports is the ability to open doors at the highest levels and create relationships and experiences that they simply wouldn’t have been able to create if they were ‘ordinary citizens’.  However, if athletes don’t recognize it or know how to look for it, these opportunities pass them by forever.

A retired NHL player recalled that while he was playing, the owner of his NHL team was one of the most powerful and recognized business leaders in the world and would regularly frequent the dressing room to hang out with the players.  This player took it for granted and never developed a relationship with this owner because he didn’t recognize the need at the time.  It is something he sorely regrets to this day.

Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala

The challenge for elite athletes is that they can have a very narrow or micro view of their sport experience. A key issue (among many) is with the athlete’s over identification with his or her ‘Athletic identity’ and the perceived need to ‘tune out’ the world around them to focus on their athletic pursuits.  

This message starts young, and at a time when kids should explore a broad range of interests, skills and competencies they do the opposite and zero in their micro interest and what is a narrow path to perceived ‘success’.  It becomes a dangerous zero sum game.

Athletes need to know they are much more than just an ‘athlete’. They need to be encouraged to understand themselves in a much broader context.  To identify what their outside interests are, their transferable skills/competencies and behaviors that are valued outside of the sporting context. This has benefits, both on the playing surface and off.

Look at NBA champion Golden State Warriors.  Led by Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, the Warriors are active in developing strong relationships with Silicon Valley.  Leveraging their status as elite professional athletes, they can open doors anywhere and as a result have been able to acquire knowledge, experience and skills in the world of technology and Venture Capital.  The New Zealand All Blacks motto dictates - ‘Better people make better All Blacks.’ Research increasingly demonstrates that well rounded people (and athletes are people first) make better athletes.

As outlined in a previous article from my colleague Duncan Fletcher, an athlete who is more self aware and well rounded is a better athlete period.  In short, ‘focus’ is being redefined. Focus doesn’t mean being ‘all in, all the time’ at the expense of all other facets of your life.  Athlete open to experiences outside of their sport can nurture relationships and create opportunities that last a lifetime. That is the power of sports.

Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.
John Hierlihy