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Jennifer Langione Headshot

Athletics: Preparation for the Business World

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Thirty seconds remain in the fourth quarter of my high school basketball game; we're down by two points and I step up to the free-throw line, sweat droplets gliding down my temples as I high-five my teammates. I twirl the ball through my fingertips and bounce it three times, the same routine I practiced hour after hour in the gym six days a week. I take a couple of deep breaths and visualize myself sinking both free throws to tie the game. After both shots drop through the net, my pulse is racing in tandem with the roaring crowd. For a few seconds, I feel untouchable and composed. Teamwork, dedication and faith in my support system both on the court and in the stands combined to make this moment possible.

Five years later, I am sitting in a cubicle decorated with sports memorabilia, planning how I will tackle the tasks on my to-do list. In my mind I am back on the basketball court, standing at the free-throw line, calm and focused on the present. In my office I am surrounded by a similar support system of coworkers -- teammates -- all working toward the same goal as we learn and grow together.

The fundamental lessons I learned on the basketball court have shaped the way I handle pressure, success and failure in the business world. Competitive sports equipped me with the tools I need to thrive in Corporate America and beyond.

1) Teamwork

Through team sports, you learn what it's like to practice, win, lose and persist as a unit. Sports teach us the skills to become leaders in the workplace, to identify our teammates' strengths and weaknesses and position them in such a way that benefits the team. A productive team is efficient and configures a plan to reach its goals by capitalizing on each person's skills.

Athletes, before even stepping foot in a business setting, know how to deal with the struggles and frustrations associated with being on a team -- that is, the inevitability of miscommunication, disagreements and personality clashes. Sports also teach us how to tolerate distinct personalities in intimate settings for extended periods of time; someone with such experience often works amicably with others in the workplace. As teammates, we learn to step outside ourselves and engage with others in hopes of experiencing mutual growth.

2) Communication

With great teamwork comes great communication, as you cannot have a strong team if you are reluctant to speak up. To function seamlessly in a business team setting, we must be transparent and express ourselves when we see an opportunity for improvement. By promoting your math skills and telling your teammate you enjoy crunching numbers, for example, you may save him hours of time calculating budgets when he could be writing that urgent creative proposal. A good communicator is also mature: he is self-aware and confident enough to divulge his weaknesses.

It wasn't until the end of my high school basketball career that I was able accept that ball-handling was my biggest weakness; while I worked hard to improve my dribbling skills, my team would prosper when I gave up the point guard responsibility and focused on my strengths (defense and scoring). While the ability to admit your weaknesses takes courage, being frank is often beneficial to your team whether you're on the court or in the workplace.

3) Failure

Competition and the desire to improve every day is what keeps our momentum going from the second we turn off the morning alarm to the moment our head sinks into the pillow at night. My old basketball coach used to tell us that every time we fall down or consider giving up, remember that someone out there is working harder or getting stronger and faster than you. Similarly, in the business world, we must perpetually set goals and strive to get better because we know there is some company out there that is more innovative, has a more talented staff or works more efficiently.

Adeptness to competition and eagerness to excel will help you prosper in the workplace unless you allow fear of failure to hold you back. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Fear of failure is detrimental to growth. In the fast-paced game of business, we are always taking chances and don't have time to scrutinize every decision. We tend to get caught up in the "what ifs?" and elaborate hypothetical scenarios, viewing the concept of failure as a dead end rather than an opportunity to learn. We can persist by thinking of each day as one period of a basketball game, another opportunity to learn from our mistakes, work harder and perform better than last time -- onward and upwards.