With the NFL lockout dragging on, my boyfriend and I spend a lot of time talking about what the upcoming season might look like and what we expect from our beloved Washington Redskins on the field this season. I must admit, a shared passion for football and particularly for the same team definitely adds a little something extra to our relationship. We watch all of the sports networks together, consider NFL Sundays “quality time” and watching Monday and Thursday night football over salmon burgers “date night”. Several of my girlfriends also share a love of football with their significant others and agree that it’s a great thing to have in common – especially since a guys love of and a girls disinterest in sports can be a point of tension for a lot of couples.
I have also learned that there is truth to the notion that understanding and enjoying sports comes in handy in the workplace. That supervisor who can’t name one project you’ve worked on will suddenly chat up a storm with you every chance he gets when he realizes you’re a die-hard Baltimore Ravens fan and you loathe the Pittsburg Steelers.
I’ve read and heard a lot of opinions that women should learn how to “talk sports” in order to manuever in a male dominated businesses world. People argue that it’s an effective networking tool, makes male superiors comfortable around their female counterparts and can position women to be privy to information they wouldn’t ordinarily be. I agree that sports can be an easy icebreaker and a safe topic but I wonder if supporting the idea that women should learn how to “talks sports” to help their careers only encourages non-inclusive workplace behavior and perpetuates gender stereotypes and inequality. One article even suggested that women should go to a gym and learn about weight training because people love to talk about their workouts at work. Seriously??
I remember a conversation I had with my aunt a few years ago where she encouraged me to learn how to play golf because, she said, a lot of business deals are done on the golf course. It didn’t matter if I hated golf – I should at least be able to play. I can’t decide if this school of thought is more about women being well-rounded and able to step outside of their comfort zones or about women having to conform and pretend to be something they’re not just to gain equal footing with men. It’s a fine line.
A colleague recently told me that when she and her brother were younger, their dad wouldn’t care much if her brother quit various sports teams but he always made her stick it out. He felt that sports offered certain skills that he, as a father, felt obligated to make sure his daughter learned. I can get on board with her dad’s line of thinking here. There are a lot of things that participating in and understanding sports can teach you about life and even business. An article by Dr. Donna Lopiano, President of Sports Management Resources and former Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation wrote an article on why women should learn how to use sports for business. Her premise is that the business model is a reflection of the male model of sport.
Women who don’t know the written and unwritten rules of sport are at a disadvantage in understanding business models of organization based on sport. How important is it that our daughters learn the same rules as our sons? It’s critical.
These “rules” that Dr. Lopiano identifies are good examples of how the skills and lessons learned through participating in sports are beneficial to everyone and women in particular. For example:
- It’s not a popularity contest. Teams are chosen based on people’s strengths and skill competencies. Women are often taught to pick their friends and base team selection on human relationships as opposed to skill competencies.
- Participating in sports teaches boys early on to “show no fear” or sign of weakness. Employees who can create an illusion of confidence by exhibiting a self-assurance and calmness under pressure will get to play the most important roles.
- As the old adage says: “you win some, you lose some”. The outcome of a game and/or your performance in a game has no bearing on your worth as a person. Participating in sports teaches you to be a gracious winner and to not be a sore loser.
- Participating in sports also teaches boys that you must play a position to become proficient at it. Becoming good at a particular position stems from the will to achieve and working hard at the skills required for that position. The result is that boys grow up thinking that they can achieve anything they commit to. Men will apply for jobs that others might consider them under qualified for because they believe that they are able to meet the challenge of a new position and learn by doing. For women, being confident that they can meet the demands of a new position is not enough. They tend to think that advancing to a new position requires a degree, training or something substantial that proves they are qualified. Playing sports teaches people to learn new skills and try new positions through trial-and-error and to be confident about trying new things.
- Participating in sports teaches you that pressure, deadlines and competition are fun and exhilarating. Through sports, you learn how to handle, overcome and even enjoy challenges. Organizations want people who can thrive in a competitive environment.
- Participating in sports teaches you that “perfection is sequential attention to detail”. In both sports and business, excellence means attending to every detail – crossing every “t” and dotting every “i”. The more you study and prepare for a game, the more successful you will be. “Every great player is a student of their game and great students are always learning”.
Dr. Lopiano’s article goes on to echo the sentiment that women should use knowledge of sports in social settings to advance in today’s organizational models of business:
Men have been raised to believe that sport is important and to have favorite teams. When you enter into a conversation about something they value, you create an area of perceived common interest. You are more likely to be readily accepted as a teammate and someone that understands working with men. You are more likely to be considered “one of the boys”.
Again, not sure how I feel about this line of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love football (Hail to the Redskins!) and I have no problem kicking back at work and discussing the most recent game with male colleagues. I completely appreciate the value of sports in teaching work ethic, committment, cooperation, loyalty, and how to be a team player. But, to say that a woman must grab the sports section before heading to work and fake her way through a conversation about last night’s game to be acknowledged and accepted in a male dominated work environment just seems wrong. It also seems like a subtle reminder of how far we still have to go when it comes to gender equality in the workplace.
What do you think? Do you agree that it’s beneficial for women to understand the “sports model” in order to understand the “business model”?
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