Encouraging Women in Sports to Embrace their Future

Women in sports are celebrating wins, surviving losses, requiring teamwork, rewarding persistence, resilience and discipline

Encouraging women in sports isn’t just good for women and good for business, it’s good for countries. Supporting the investment in women and sport has significant development payoffs and contributes to economic growth overall. Sport empowers women and contributes to gender equality globally.

The increased access for women in sports to education and the labor force is correlated with more success at the Olympics—more medals. And, importantly, this attention can lead to a kind of “virtuous cycle” where national pride mixed in with an enhanced perception of women can lead to changes in public policy.

Sport is one of the most important socio-cultural learning environments in our society and, until quite recently, has been reserved for boys and men. This is not to say that the male model of business or organizations is the preferred model. In fact, women in sports are bringing new strengths to business and organizations that are based on their skills in group process, preference for cooperation models and sensitivity to human needs. Eventually, as women rise to executive positions, the organizational models of business will reflect more female characteristics and become androgynous.

However, women in sports who don’t know the written and unwritten rules of sport are at a disadvantage in understanding business models of organization based on sport. The most important of those rules are:

1. Teams are chosen based on people’s strengths and competencies rather than who is liked or disliked

This seems like such a simple concept, yet women in sports have traditionally learned to pick their friends and emphasize human relationships rather than skill competencies.

2. Errors are expected of people who are trying to do new things. The most important thing is never making the same mistake twice

Errors are acknowledged immediately by each player and players are expected to fix their errors and not dwell on them or take criticism of errors personally. During a game is not the time to have a long conversation about what you should do or how you might correct an error. That is something you do during practice before or after the game.

3. Loyalty to your teammates is very important

Many women don’t understand it when a man who is not doing his job is protected rather than dismissed. Boys learn from sports that every person on the team has a role to play. Even the players who sit the bench are positive forces on the team as long as they are good sports and encourage teammates who play. Players who are satisfied sitting the bench and waiting their turn to play are valued because they promote team harmony by not complaining. Not everyone can be successful players. Few men will criticize their teammates. They will always promote the strength of their teammates and not mention weaknesses. Women who don’t play sports are much more critical of each other and much more likely to point out a teammate’s weaknesses if asked to do so. When women do this in business organizations, they are perceived as disloyal.

4. Winning and losing has nothing to do with your worth as a person

In sports and in organizations, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sport gives you experience so you learn to win graciously and accept defeat without blowing the experience out of proportion. You learn to separate the outcome of a game or your performance in one game from your worth as a person. A bad practice does not make you a bad person. This is a critically important lesson for all workers.

5. Pressures, deadlines and competition are fun

In sports and in organizations, pressure, deadlines and competition are commonplace. Sport gives players the experience of dealing with these realities and learning to enjoy and conquer their challenges. When there are only two seconds left on the clock, your team is one point down, and you go up for the jump shot, you learn what pressure, deadlines and competition is all about and how they can be perceived as exhilarating and fun rather than scary and distasteful. The bottom line is that most organizations want to hire people who enjoy and excel in competitive environments. If we don’t give sports to women, we don’t allow them to learn how to handle these challenges.

Girls and Women Need Encouragement and Aspirational Role Models

Many people think that girls are not as interested in sport as boys.  The boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 9—and their parents—are equally interested in sports participation. However, by the age of 14, girls drop out of sport at a rate that is six times greater than boys. Girls and women simply do not receive the same positive reinforcement about their sports participation. Boys receive balls, gloves and sports equipment by the age of 2. They see their images on television as sportsmen, they see their photos in the sports section and know from their parents and friends that they are expected to play sports.

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