The skills that women develop as athletes can contribute to entrepreneurial success, according to a recent report

A new report examines how sport prepares women to build successful businesses in the high-stakes world of entrepreneurship.

The “Why female athletes make winning entrepreneurs” report, published by EY and espnW, highlights the skills women develop as athletes and how those winning behaviours contribute to entrepreneurial success. Through a series of in-depth interviews with women entrepreneurs, including Olympians and elite, professional and collegiate-level athletes from 9 countries and 11 different sports, the study explores how competing in sport — and learning key behaviours from those who play at the highest levels — can help women entrepreneurs with sports backgrounds build market-leading companies.

“We’ve long known that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and our study underscores that female athletes have a unique combination of qualities gained through sport — confidence, resilience, passion, leadership and unwavering focus,” explains Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY Global Vice Chair – Public Policy. “These qualities have proven essential in breaking through the barriers everyone faces in founding, leading and scaling their business.”

The report identifies five winning traits developed through sport that provide an advantage to entrepreneurs:

  • Confidence: Athletes are confident in their ability to perform, and their confidence is visible to those around them. For entrepreneurs, who are required to build passionate internal teams and attract loyal customers and proud sponsors, a confident image is an essential success factor for scaling a business.
  • Single-mindedness: With unwavering focus, athletes turn barriers into motivators and disregard destabilising influences. This focus is vital for female entrepreneurs when seeing projects through from start to finish.
  • Passion: Athletes are programmed to compete and are driven to win. The competitive fire learned through sport proves to be invaluable in the business marketplace.
  • Leadership: Playing sport helps athletes understand the importance and nuances of teaming, and building high-performing teams is essential for female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
  • Resilience: After a loss or a disappointing game, athletes must rebound and get ready for the next challenge. This resilience enables female entrepreneurs to lead through uncertainties and overcome business setbacks.

The report also details winning behaviours of athletes that women entrepreneurs — with or without sports backgrounds  can adopt and apply in their roles as founder leaders:

  • Setting daily goals: Nearly every female athlete entrepreneur surveyed set daily goals and most have a tiered approach to goal-setting, starting with annual goals and breaking them down into quarterly, monthly and daily targets.
  • Prioritising time: The demanding training schedules of athletes teach them to become highly efficient at prioritising and closely managing how they spend their time as business leaders.
  • Working with the right coaches: Almost half of the female athlete entrepreneurs surveyed seek advice at least once a week from experts outside their industry to get a different perspective. Entrepreneurs who succeed typically assemble a group of advisors who coach them, provide valuable input and extend their networks.
  • Reducing pressure and stress: In order to stay motivated during difficult or busy periods, it’s important to identify what alleviates stress and other pressures of work, something many entrepreneurs overlook in the around-the-clock effort it takes to launch their companies and lead their teams.

“This latest research further solidifies our long-held belief that sports play an integral role in the success of women in business,” explains Laura Gentile, Senior Vice President, espnW & ESPN Women’s Initiatives. “We now see that female entrepreneurs also benefit from the skills they learn through sports as they apply them to their own businesses. Whether in the boardroom or running a start-up, women whose formative years were impacted by sports participation are uniquely suited for success in the workplace.”

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