Talent   //   January 25, 2024

Do athletes perform as well in the workplace as they do on the field?

Playing a sport growing up or throughout college might have a bigger impact on how you perform in the workplace than you think.

Workforce intelligence company Revelio Labs found in their workforce data that student athletes experience faster salary and seniority growth in the five years after graduation compared to their non-athlete peers. Why? They’re more likely to demonstrate management and communication skills that can propel them onto a faster track for career progression. 

“If you were to talk to any employers, these skills are the ones that make you stand out as a good employee,” said Jin Yan, senior economist at Revelio Labs.

Looking at the numbers even closer, student athletes saw a 60% increase in salary growth, while non-athletes only saw a 45.3% increase. When it comes to seniority growth, student athletes saw a 77.9% increase and non-athletes only saw a 57.6% increase. The study didn’t detail exact growth figures.

Student athletes were frequently cited having skills like time management, event management, public speaking, interpersonal skills and marketing communications. The study found that student athletes tend to work and excel in sports, sales positions, and investment banking.

“It’s very relevant based on their past experience,” said Yan. “These are jobs that are like a pressure cooker. You really need a lot of endurance and toughness to withstand these jobs.”

“These are jobs that are like a pressure cooker. You really need a lot of endurance and toughness to withstand these jobs.”
Jin Yan, senior economist at Revelio Labs.

Alan Chu, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who specializes in psychosocial aspects of sport, and broke down three main traits that athletes have that are transferable to the workplace, including motivation, leadership and communication as well as resilency.

“No matter how good of an athlete, they’ve struggled or failed at some point,” said Chu. “But, they can come back, and come back even stronger. It’s really unique that athletes can thrive in those situations rather than just survive.”

“When you ask them to do a task, you don’t need to worry how much effort they put in. Former athletes want to achieve the best they can.”
Alan Chu, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Athletes in the workplace now can assess how they stand apart from others. Emma Bolton, account director at public relations and events agency Posh Cockney, is a former professional dancer. “As a professional athlete, you do not miss a training session as this could lead to you getting replaced in the team,” she says. In her professional role now, she rarely takes sick days and will put in as many hours as it takes to get the job done. “This determination is often missing from people who haven’t been through that sort of training.”

Similarly, Michael Browning, CEO and founder of youth enrichment platform Unleashed Brands, said that he started playing hockey at age 13, heading to the rink at 4 a.m. every day for lessons. Sports taught him “about something bigger than yourself,” he told WorkLife.

“The way I mentally prepared for big games translates to how I prepare for big meetings today. It also taught me that each person plays a unique role on a team, and has provided the tools to move on from mistakes and grow from them,” said Browning.

These are all skills that can even be difficult to teach later in life, which is why someone might especially want an athlete to join their team or company. However, that’s not to say that these individuals don’t have any flaws either. Chu warns about perfectionism and criticism of oneself amongst athletes in the workplace.

“Particularly in the work setting, not everybody is an athlete anymore and not everyone has the same mentality,” said Chu. “You might recognize you want to improve, but not everyone might think the same as you.”