How Sports Training & Discipline Impact Professional Success
Five months ago, my longtime friend and API colleague wanted to try and test what her body was capable of. Jennifer Pickerel told me it had been too long since she’d trained for something. She was ready again to subject herself to the planning and discipline that any bona fide physical test demands.
After all, this is what Jen does. She sets an athletic goal and conquers it. Many of them, in fact. She’s competed in several events, including a mile-long ocean swim, a half marathon, a 60-mile walk for breast cancer, numerous 5k’s and 10k’s and an Olympic Distance Triathlon.
This time, it was a weightlifting competition!
Jen set a goal and devoted herself to the task. She did so by completely changing up her workout. Thus, she began the daily push and discipline that sports training can conjure.
This past March 30th, Jen participated in her first USA Powerlifting meet. As a newcomer to the sport, she blew people’s minds by finishing second place in her category.
And she finished second only to a competitor who qualified for Nationals.
Many of her competitors and others in attendance couldn’t believe it was her first meet.
Does Sports Training and Discipline = Professional Success?
Do athletic training and performance cross over to the workplace?
Talking to Jen about her training is only part of what I want to focus on in this, which, after all, is an aviation-related blog. What I wanted to understand from Jen is if (and how) her commitment to athleticism carries over into her professional life.
Is there a connection?
Can one’s discipline in the gym—that willful commitment and follow-through—become a part of their overall fortitude and day-to-day performance generally? And, if so, how can one adapt that mind and body set to their professional behavior and workplace success?
“For both sports and work, it’s all about setting and achieving goals,” Jen told me. “Both ventures need organization, persistence, time management and very high levels of accountability.”
That got me even more interested in the potential crossovers between athletics and professional work. So I did a little research on the topic.
A report from Ernst & Young focuses on how women build leadership skills through sports. In it, I learned that:
- 94 percent of women in the C-level professionals played sports.
- 52 percent of women in the C-suite played at the university level.
- 77 percent of C-suite women think women who played sports make good employees.
And in another report, E&Y and espnW interviewed women entrepreneurs around the world who had played sports. As it turns out, women reported that they developed leadership, confidence, single-mindedness, passion and resilience as athletes.
Regarding leadership, the report noted: “The athlete entrepreneurs explain that playing sports has given them a strong grounding in what it means to be on a team — on both practical and emotional levels.
“And they are using that sports mindset to establish the high-performing teams required to grow their companies.”
On Time Management
Broaching this topic with Jen, she began by telling me that she’s always been an efficient worker. And, I’ve seen firsthand that she sets reasonable, achievable boundaries and goals that relate to both work and life balance.
Effective time management is key to the whole effort, she says. “Managing a personal goal requires that you be super organized and manage your time effectively. It’s easy to get hyper-focused on your physical goal to the detriment of your professional life,” she told me.
Jen’s work-related travels require very effective time-management skills. “If I’m meeting Sheryl at, say, 8 a.m. for breakfast, I’m up at 4 a.m. to request an Uber ride.” Ahead of the trip, Jen has likely already searched for a gym that had the right equipment and purchased a daily pass online. Then she works out for 90 minutes —all before her first meeting.
“We’re only as good as our daily routine,” she said. “When I begin my day with a grinding workout, it’s as if I’m attacking that day head on.”
I then asked Jen about her self-discipline related to work and her athletic endeavors.
“It’s of paramount importance,” she said. “In sports, as in business, I want a quantifiable goal each year. It’s about both setting and honoring those goals. But the promise is to no one but myself.”
Jen relayed that if she can keep a promise to herself, then she can keep a promise to anybody. Especially to her work teammates and API’s clients.
“Athleticism—and the promises you set and keep to yourself—trains you to follow through and have persistence. The first level of accountability is personal accountability.”
She added: “It’s about the little things and how they add up to the big things.” For example, in her work life, Jen is a person who brings enormous passion to what she’s doing. Her drive and discipline lead to delivering high-quality, timely projects for clients and closing new business on a consistent basis. Not just focusing on landing the one big account.”
On Teaching “Drive”
“I don’t think you can actually teach someone ‘drive,’” Jen explained. “It’s something ingrained in people. You either see it and work to develop it or you don’t. As a business leader, it might be hard to teach commitment (or drive), but you can find motivators.”
When working with candidates, Jen asks them, “What do they find most fulfilling?” This helps them travel down a path of self-discovery. It helps them to identify important goals to achieve. And that act of achieving them on a day-to-day basis is the essence of drive.
Is there a method to what you do to stay on track and achieve your athletic and work goals? Is there an actual technique to do so?
Jen told me that any time she takes on a new sport (or begins a challenging work project), she enjoys the learning process. Even more rewarding to her is mastering a new technique.
“How you swim, how you run and how you lift the weights determine your success in performance.” She noted. “The same is true for your professional life. Your work style—in every nuance of that term—will dictate your level of achievement.”
When Jen and I worked together in Tempe, Arizona, I remember her joining a Master-level swim team. It was in an effort to train for an open-water swim in California.
“There were former collegiate swimmers on the team and I was self-taught. I was always in the slow lane! No matter what I did, I couldn’t advance to the next lane. On a day when I felt defeated by once again not advancing, my coach said to me, ‘Your only competition is the clock. You’re working to improve you, not to beat the swimmer next to you.’ That has stuck with me for years. We have to be our own timepiece, our own barometer.”
When it comes to one’s work life, Jen said we shouldn’t set a goal of beating out a coworker to get the best job we can. That’s the wrong focus.
“It’s all about being the best you can be for yourself,” she said. “And, believe me, if you follow that path and consistently push to improve and evolve, the job promotions will come.”
The Power of Support
One aspect that Jen didn’t want to overlook is how important support is to one’s success.
“After my weightlifting competition, I received an outpouring of support,” she explained. “Several people wrote that they admired my courage and strength. If even one person sets their mind to a new goal based on what I’ve achieved, then the months of early mornings and grueling training were more than worth it.”
“I was Ranked 2nd out of 12 in my weight class. I was a newcomer. My goal was to put up a PR (personal record). I had no idea if I could be competitive. I set a goal and went into the unknown. Along the way I learned many things about myself, but easily the most meaningful lesson learned came from my husband and coach. When I asked him, ‘What if I can’t lift this?’ He responded, ‘What if you can?’”
“If you go into a lift thinking you might fail, you’ve already failed.”
The above quote is one of Jen’s favorite inspirational messages for her latest training. She thinks we can substitute just about anything for “lift” in that space. The concept applies to both our professional and personal lives. It’s important across multiple disciplines and speaks to having confidence in yourself, even when facing something you’ve never done before.