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7 Career Lessons We Can Learn From Pro Athletes

The fall season if an exciting time for sports fans and job-seekers alike. The NHL and NFL seasons have just begun and the busy hiring season is in full swing. If you are on the job hunt, you may be more inclined to spend your Sunday afternoon watching your favourite team play with a bucket of buffalo wings instead of tackling the job boards. But there are lessons to be learned from the pro athletes we watch on TV, ones that can be translated into our own careers.

With that in mind, we put together a list of career lessons we can learn from pro athletes.

Develop your skills

Pro athletes train constantly and are always working with trainers to further develop their skills and technique. They are always sharpening their skills and figuring out ways to improve their game.

Career coach Mary Kruger shares, “My daughter Jessica Kruger, a BC Wheelchair Rugby provincial athlete and the only female on the team, says,’You need to work harder and develop the skills that are lacking. Figure out where the gaps are and try to be that person that fills the gaps.”

This applies to people job searching too. “Doing informational interviews is a great way to figure out where the gaps are in your career and skills and how to fill those gaps. Working with a career coach you can identify together those gaps and come up with an action plan to address them,” she adds.

Always keep the competition in mind

It may sound harsh, but it’s true. Whether it be someone else in your company going for the same promotion or new college graduates coming into the workforce with a fresh set of skills, there will always be other people competing for your job.

Mary’s daughter Jessica told her, ‘We are all replaceable in the athlete world and it’s probably true in the career world. There’s the fear of someone else coming in and being better, so I push myself to train harder and keep working. I try to be one of those rare people that isn’t replaceable.’

“The same can apply to looking for work. Finding a way to set yourself above the competition will get you noticed and get you the interview and job! And keeping your job and getting promoted. When you stand out and try to not be replaceable through hard work, being proactive and having the positive can-do attitude like Jessica, you will go places,” Mary says.

Step out of your comfort zone

“Always go beyond what “feels comfortable.” Athletes are constantly stretching themselves outside their comfort zone. For them, a comfort zone is just an indication of where NOT to go (consider the greats, like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan). They know that at an elite level, if you stagnate or are doing “just enough”, you’ll soon be eclipsed, surpassed, and become disenchanted with your own goals,” says career coach Lisa Pachence.

“Same thing goes with one’s career, whether you’re a job seeker or you’re interested in reinventing your current position. Check in with yourself – where is your comfort zone, and how is it limiting you? Are you bored with what you’re doing? Are you envious of your coworkers or fellow job seekers who seem to “get it” and have it all? If so, you’re likely on your own Ferris wheel of comfort.

So here it is – go after that promotion. Get a new certification. Volunteer for a new project. Apply for that stretch position. Because once you settle and tolerate, you’re no longer engaged in what you’re doing.  And when you’re stepping up and trying new things, you feel more powerful and gain confidence in the long run.”

Give your absolute all

“EVERYTHING is practice. Every scrimmage, match, game, race, is practice and an opportunity to become a better you. And living that value of growth is much more empowering than winning a medal,” Lisa explains. “You perform better when you’re interested in doing better. Once you put unnecessary pressure on a particular goal and become attached to the outcome, you open yourself up to disappointment, judgment, fatigue, victim, and (maybe) instant gratification with no long-term payoff.”

“If you’re interested in bettering yourself in the area of career (rather than making the results mean everything about everything), things are less personal. You can learn and be flexible and get curious about any gaps. It allows you to think outside the box and keep your values front and center. It puts the power back in your seat rather than giving it away to your boss, your business, your coworkers, an institution.”

It’s never too late to start/make an impact

While many athletes began mastering their craft from a young age, there are plenty of people that began competing over the age of 30 and have gone on to become pros. In fact, there are tons of examples of individuals who began competing in professional sports much later in life. There have also been a ton of athletes who have continued to compete in sports despite getting older and being expected to retire. Just take a look at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. There were a ton of Olympic athletes over 40 that competed, such as 56-year-old Canadian rower Lesley Thompson-Willie and American cyclist Kristen Anderson, who won a gold medal the day before her 43rd birthday.

This same thinking can be translated to your career. If you have been in the same industry for many years, just remember that it is never too late to make a career transition to another field. If you have been a stay-at-home parent for many years and don’t feel confident reentering the workforce after being away for so long, all you have to do is adjust your thinking and understand that you aren’t alone in this. If you need some help regaining that confidence or sussing out your career options, hiring a career coach is a great option.

Never give up

“Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get back up” – Chinese proverb

Most pro athletes got to where they are today by never giving up on their dream. While some of them may have caught a lucky break and were drafted early in their career, many have been rejected over and over before actually making it. We all face rejection at some point in our lives and in our careers, but being able to stand up again after being knocked down is what makes the difference between success and failure.

While being rejected from a job you thought you had in the bag can be painful, you have to take it in stride and use that failure as a lesson. Ask yourself what may have gone wrong during the interview process. It could be that you just don’t have all the necessary qualifications (something you can change with a little bit of training) or you just weren’t a fit for the company culture (in which case, you wouldn’t likely be happy there anyway).

Regardless of the reason why that particular job didn’t work out, it’s important to stay focused and not give up on your goals. If you ever need help regaining your confidence and getting back on the job hunt, hiring a career coach is a great option, as they can offer you that support.

It’s okay to ask for help

Most pro athlete has a head coach and assistant coaches to help them improve their skills and stay focused, as well as hold them accountable for their actions. Some athletes even seek out life or career coaches to further help them in their professional sports career. In fact, NFL Super Bowl Champ and former NY Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer hired on Noomii life coach Sifu Karl Romain to help him when his NFL career began to take a dip.

When it comes to our careers, once we are out of college, we don’t typically get any outside help or support. We get our credentials and we dive blindly into the workforce in hopes that we get it right. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help us pave our career path, such as job centres that offer resume help. You can also hire a career coach or a career counselor. Noomii has a ton of great career coaches on our network that can help you with your resume and cover letter, interview prep and building your personal brand on LinkedIn and other professional career sites. Or, if you haven’t quite figured out your passion, they can help you with that too!

Are you thinking of hiring a career coach to help you reach your full potential? Browse our directory of career coaches or request a personalized coach recommendation!

About the Author Kristen Moran

Kristen is the editor and community manager at and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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