By: Judi Gilbert, B.A. Leadership Coach & Consultant 

As I recall my life in sports, I think it is fair to say I was a good athlete. I have always been passionate about sport and from an early age I was a member of many successful teams. By the time I was 8 years old I knew hockey was not only Canada’s game, but mine too.

In my early years I became more and more entrenched in the game and I felt my passion for the game growing leaps and bounds. I was obsessed with getting to the arena almost 2 hours before game time. I was obsessed with our backyard rink where a tree in the middle acted as an additional defender and where the rink often received its light well into the night from a floor lamp temporarily misplaced from our living room. I was obsessed with the marathon road hockey games on a Saturday that were only ever interrupted by darkness, dinner or a shattered window from an errant ball or puck. Nothing was more important to me than the game. Much to my delight I fulfilled my dream of playing competitive ice hockey. By the time I was 13 years old multiple schools had reached out to me to join their programs. My memories of my time playing hockey are abundant, priceless, and irreplaceable and the lessons learned invaluable.

As a young athlete I didn’t know what sport was truly giving me. At the time I knew it was giving me the opportunity to compete; to hone and improve my talent; to make lasting friendships and to be part of a team striving towards a goal, but it wasn’t until after I left competitive sport that I started to really think about what the game had given me.

It had given me-Me! And it gave you -You! I didn’t know it and perhaps you didn’t either but from the time we were noticeably young we were amassing a list of skills and experiences, that would help shape our values, our principles, and our standards. If you think about it, as athletes, we have been employed since we were 9 or 10 years old. I know that sounds silly, but I believe it. Think about it. We followed a schedule or regime, we made a commitment to improve our skills, we relied on our teammates for support and to meet our objectives, we managed our schedules and went to work each and every time we stepped on the ice, the field or the court and like all of you I never thought about it in those terms-not until I needed to. 

Not until I was transitioning away from sport. As a female I knew I would not have a career in hockey and even though I planned for my future the transition was still not an easy one. From an early age much of my identity revolved around sport and particularly hockey. It is what motivated me, it was what I was good at, but I knew one day it would come to an end. In my early 20’s I left the game to concentrate on my career and for a long time after I experienced a sense of loss and a void that I found difficult to fill. In fact, if I am being truthful, I have never filled the void that hockey left but I have learned to use the experiences I garnered from hockey to help me be successful in other sports and my career. 

As athletes, we often get tunnel vision where our sport plays a factor, and it becomes easy to neglect other areas of our life. But the reality is we aren’t athletes forever. Perhaps because of our sports prowess we will be respected and revered for the things we did as an athlete, but that won’t ever be who we are the rest of our life. It’s up to each of us to decide who we are outside of the game. 

If you are still competing in sport at an amateur or professional level that is great, but I cannot emphasize the importance of preparing for your transition away from sport now. Believe me when I say, it will happen. It will happen because you suffer a career ending injury. It will happen when you graduate from a college or university sport and it will happen when you are no longer able to compete at the level you once could or for the majority it will happen upon completion of high school. Then what? 

We all know the chances of playing a sport at an elite level is low and no matter our skill level we have all learned (transferrable) skills during our time in sport that will help us be successful in our non sport endeavours. Let’s be honest. Leaving the sports world can be a difficult experience, especially if you haven’t been able to identify the skills and experiences you have amassed during sport or if you are unsure of what your next move is. What is a transferrable skill? 

A transferable skill is adaptable. For example, skills like time management, resilience, focus or communicating effectively are transferable in that you could have acquired or developed them during your time in sport, but they can also be applied to countless roles outside of sport. It is essential that as athletes transitioning away from sport, you know how to assess your experiences and identify your transferrable skills. Everything you have done in sport has the potential to help you gain and develop transferrable skills, but we do not often recognize the skills we have or see the value in these skills beyond the rink, the court, or the field. Often, we compartmentalize our skills and we only identify with being an athlete. For example, we only think the skills we use for sport and the experiences we have accumulated are good for sport but this just isn’t true. In some cases, even if we can identify our skills, we don’t know how to effectively link these skills when we are applying for a job, starting our own business, or continuing our education. Being active in sport throughout my youth and adolescence taught me a lot about discipline, time management, resilience, how to deal with adversity and taking responsibility for my own successes and failures. Sport taught me humility, mutual respect and empathy and it taught me that I had a responsibility to my teammates and to my coaching staff.                                       

Even though I am not active in competitive sports any more I feel strongly that I have been able to successfully transfer these skills and competencies into other arenas of my life, especially my work arena, and although it may be sub conscious, I strongly believe these attributes continue to be a part of my life and the decisions I make daily. One of the skills that I developed during my time in sport that has transferred into other areas of my life is time management. As an athlete, I spent several years balancing my commitment to sport and other areas of my life including school, part-time jobs, family, and friends. Learning how to manage my time at an early age taught me how to prioritize and give each priority the attention it deserved.

I learned how to handle multiple commitments at a time and meet deadlines. During university I had a remarkably busy schedule, as I am sure many of you can attest to as well. We practiced every night during the week for 2 hours unless one of those nights happened to be a game and often, we had away games on the weekend. Add to that assignments, in-class lectures, reports and exams and let’s not forget my part-time job. Although this example clearly speaks to university, I strongly believe I have been honing my time management skills since my early years in sport and as I matured and my commitments and priorities grew, I was more prepared to handle the challenges of managing my time. 

Today, in my business, time management is one of my biggest assets. I work with multiple clients whose needs are often quite different and it is important to me that while I am working on their behalf, whether I am preparing a proposal, facilitating a workshop, or engaged in a meeting, they are getting my undivided attention. This is just one example of a transferrable skill that has helped me be successful and I am confident that upon examination of your own skills and experiences you will be able to recognize your transferrable skills and why they are unique to you. If this seems a bit overwhelming let’s review some of the transferrable skills I have mentioned as well as a few others keeping in mind this list is by no means exhaustive and as you start to reflect on your skills, I am sure many more will come to mind. Earlier I touched on discipline, resilience, adversity, focus, humility, mutual respect, empathy, and communication as being transferrable skills and I also provided you with several examples of how I honed my time management skills through sport but what about self-confidence, teamwork, and goal setting? Do you recall gaining experience in any of these skills during your time in sport? Does hard-work, collaboration, leadership, and flexibility resonate with you? Aren’t these also transferrable skills that we could acquire during our time in sport?

Take communication for example, as an athlete, I can recall and I am sure you can too, instances where we participated in both pre-game and post-game meetings and debriefings. Meetings where we discussed strategies conveyed our opinions, and contributed ideas and solutions all while being respectful of our teammates and coaches. 

This is communication folks! And what about while you were immersed in the game? While you were on the bench did the coach explain to you and your line mates what his or her expectations were for your next shift? Did your coach provide you and your teammates with positive feedback to help your development? Did you and your teammates discuss making adjustments, or changes to your play to help you be more successful? Did your coach communicate to you while you were on the ice or on the court either verbally or with body language? I can recall on the bench a tap on the shoulder to discuss a previous play, to talk about what might be done differently and to ask me my opinion. This is also communication! 

As an athlete when I was in an environment where effective and respectful communication prevailed, I felt supported but when I was in an environment where poor communication existed, I felt broken down by the demanding environment I found myself in. I want you to reflect on this for a moment and think about some of your own experiences. Have there been instances where you have felt supported or broken down by the way others have communicated with you and as a result of these experiences are you more conscious about how you communicate with others? Do you feel that sport provided you with an outlet to hone your communication skills? If we are going to be successful after sport, we must keep in mind the importance of being able to communicate effectively and respectfully and I cannot stress this enough! 

During my time as a consultant, I have had several clients acquire my services strictly to enhance their management and staff team’s communication skills. On the surface it all seems obvious but when we are placed in stressful situations or environments and we have competing demands and priorities, our manners sometimes slip, and we need a reminder! As you have probably guessed I am extremely passionate about sport and the skills we have developed as a result of our involvement in sport. As a former University hockey player and now a business leadership coach and consultant, I am also passionate about helping others put in motion the steps necessary to identify the transferrable skills they have accumulated during their successful sporting career and how these skills can support them during their transition.

So, I have one last question for you. What are you going to do with the skills you have been honing since you were 9 years old?

Check out our full podcast interview with Judi on the Total Sports Quinte PodCast Channel!