Transferable skills: how an elite sporting career helped me to succeed at C+T

In this blog, Sian Morgan in the C+T Audit Department considers how her early successful sporting career helped her to build her career and thrive in the workplace.

Ten years ago, I was juggling GCSEs with qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. Fast forward a decade, and, having recently passed my final exam to become a Chartered Accountant, I realise how transferable the skills I acquired from my time as an international swimming athlete are to my career outside of elite sport.

Athletes are known for the gold medals they win, the records they break and the time they achieve in a specific event. These are the pinnacle goals which athletes work towards for most of their career. When these goals are achieved (or in some cases not achieved), this is how an athlete is ‘valued’. However, what really defines an athlete are the life skills they learn along the way. Anyone who has participated in elite sport possesses valuable skills that can be applied to any aspect of life. The commitment and dedication required from a very young age helps to mould athletes to become very successful in their future careers.

I have considered several key traits which athletes acquire throughout their sporting career that translate to essential skills in the workplace, and how these skills have enabled me to succeed in my career so far.

Time Management

Balancing a demanding training schedule alongside school or work means athletes become experts in managing their time. Swimming has one of the most intense training schedules of any sport. An average week would include ten sessions in the pool combined with at least three sessions in the gym, with 4.30am starts nearly every day. This leaves very little time for other activities, especially school or university, and forces athletes to become extremely organised. This ability to effectively manage your time to complete all required tasks is a valued skill in the workplace. This skill particularly helped me when I was studying for my Chartered Accountancy exams whilst working full-time.

Strong Work Ethic

The training required to compete at an elite level in sport is  physically demanding, and is incredibly challenging mentally too. Athletes possess extreme mental toughness and are always striving to improve and to be the best. Swimmers train incredibly hard for years to improve by only fractions of a second. This requires a tremendous work ethic and exceptional motivation for very little reward in return. Athletes can transfer these traits into a work environment and continue to be driven to succeed in their future careers. After retiring from swimming, I transferred my drive to succeed to set new goals outside of swimming, including running a marathon and becoming a Chartered Accountant. This ability to set goals and remain focussed and motivated towards these goals are essential to succeed in the workplace.

Overcome Adversity

Every athlete has faced adversity and failure at some point in their career; it is a huge aspect of being a sportsperson. A lot of athletes have likely failed more often than they’ve won, but they have always got back up and kept on going. The aim  is not only learning to cope with failure, but learning how to come back stronger and ensure future success. Athletes are exceptional learners as they analyse their weaknesses and learn from their mistakes to help drive them to be successful next time. From my own experience, some of my greatest achievements in my swimming career stemmed from my biggest failures, as I was more motivated and determined to achieve my goals. This ability to deal with failure is just as important in the workplace and is a skill that is easily transferred to any career. Failure is inevitable at some point but having the resilience to bounce back and keep on going will result in a future positive outcome.

Coping Under Pressure

Athletes must learn to cope with a huge amount of pressure throughout their careers, in order to be successful. The athletic environment is high-pressured, competitive and extremely tough. Athletes can train for years for an event and one slight mistake could result in a lost medal, or missing a place on an international team. I placed a large amount of pressure on myself from a very young age, particularly when I was 15 to qualify for my first Commonwealth Games. Learning to handle pressure early on in life has helped me to stay calm and succeed in challenging high-pressured situations, particularly when sitting my ICAS examinations. The ability to deal with pressure is important in any line of work; unexpected problems and challenges can often occur.

Team Players

Although swimming is known as an individual sport, swimmers train in a team which becomes a huge part of their career. Athletes understand the importance of working together and how to maximise the strengths of each member to result in team success. Inspiring other team members and maintaining a positive atmosphere can have a huge impact, not only on an individual but the whole team. This was a massive part of my time training with the University of Edinburgh Performance Swim Team: we would constantly push each other to reach our full potential and support each other during more challenging periods. Team players are critical to a productive and enjoyable workplace. Athletes naturally bring their teamwork skills into the workplace, and this can help employees work together towards company goals allowing organisations to thrive.

Athletes often struggle with the transition out of elite sport, particularly with the loss of identity and uncertainty over the future direction of their lives. Greater awareness and knowledge of the unique traits that athletes possess will help businesses with this transition, and enable former athletes to become valuable employees and succeed in their professional life after elite sport.