For as long as I can remember sport has been part of my life. My brother and I would chase each other around our parent’s yard playing football, baseball and more. We really liked basketball as kids. There was one summer when I shot 15,000 shots in the driveway.
I don’t know if I can prove that sports has helped me in life, but it certainly feels that way. And it looks like there have been some studies on the topic.
The findings in a few studies showed that those that played sports in high school had higher levels of leadership, self-confidence and self-respect. There was evidence of success in social situations and that carried over into business settings where many successful businesspeople played sports growing up and continued to play sports as adults even while running large companies.
So with that in mind I thought we could look at some of the most successful businesspeople in the world and see what sports they played growing up and even into their adult lives.
Sam Walton: Tennis
I read Sam Walton’s book a few months back and he was almost obsessed with tennis. He would play almost everyday during his lunch break. He played against others in his community that would take lunch breaks for tennis. The matches seemed to get very heated. He didn’t like to lose and you can see how that competitiveness would be healthy in the business world. When you don’t like losing you’ll keep working and working until you come out on top no matter how long it takes.
Alex Spanos: Golf
Alex Spanos succeeded greatly in business. He had different businesses, but made big money in real estate development. He also purchased the San Diego Chargers. He had a love for football, but I don’t think he played competitively.
What he did play, though, was golf. He worked and the game obsessively and to the point where he was one of the top ranked amateurs in the world. He played in all kinds of events. That’s competition at a really high level. Golf is not easy for anyone, even the pros. Alex Spanos seemed to be able to use lessons from business in golf and vice versa.
Rod Stewart: Soccer
I read Rod Stewart’s book a few years ago. It was really good. He gave some good insight for success in life including a lesson he learned from his dad, which was that everyone would do well if they had a vocation, a hobby and a sport.
The idea was that sports allowed for a person to build not only a healthy lifestyle, but the traits that would make one more successful in life. Rod Stewart loved soccer or football. He continues to play even well into his 70s.
Wende Zomnir: Snowboarding
Urban Decay is a very successful cosmetics and beauty company. Their CEO, Wende Zomnir, is also well known for her snowboarding ability. She does all kinds of sports like surfing, Crossfit, running and more, but it seems that snowboarding is really one of her loves. She goes to Alaska every year, or at least used to go every year, to go helicopter snowboarding. Talk about a challenge, but if you can do that it must feel like you can do anything. Facing a board of directors isn’t that tough when you’ve jumped out of a helicopter with a board strapped to your feet.
Jack Welch: Hockey
Jack Welch, famous CEO of GE, was the captain of his high school hockey team. He played multiple sports, but his love seemed to be hockey. He was obviously well-respected by teammates and coaches to be named captain. And he must have been a pretty good player. Jack mentioned that hockey was a great sport for building traits including self-confidence as well as the ability to work with others and to lead others.
Steve Jobs: Walking
Okay, this one is kind of stretching it a bit, but I thought it was worthwhile to include. Steve Jobs doesn’t seem like the athletic type, but he did love his walks. Walking may not be a sport in the traditional sense, but he was very committed to walking all the time. It allowed him time to think and to get some exercise. All sports require commitment and that trait is important for success in life.
Garth Brooks: Baseball
Garth Brooks is one of the most successful musicians in history. He’s also a very skilled businessperson. He played baseball in high school and his love for the sport continued into his adult life. He spent training camp with a few professional teams. It was for publicity and things like that, but he held his own for a bit. Garth comes across as respectful, but also competitive with the way he lives his life and it’s been a good trait for him over the years. He also appreciates the ability of a team. He likes being part of a team because he believe that a team can achieve more than an individual.
Kenny Chesney: Football
Like Garth, Kenny is very successful in country music and has been successful in the industry for a long time, which is not easy. Throughout Kenny’s career he has mentioned his love for football. He has hit songs about the topic and has often referenced the lessons one can learn by playing team football. Kenny played in high school and that love has gone on to influence his adult life.
Betsy Bernard: Downhill Skiing
Besty Bernard, president of AT&T, used to downhill ski competitively. We have a big downhill ski jump where I live. They have regular competitions and it’s kind of crazy how fast they come down that hill. Watching the skiing during the Olympics is even more thrilling. I don’t know how those competitors do it and to think that Betsy did it competitively is very impressive. I’m sure she’s taken lessons from that life into her life as a business leader.
Taylor Swift: Horse Riding
Taylor Swift used to ride horses competitively. I don’t know how long it lasted. I think the story is that when she was young she had to give up the competition in order to focus on her music career, but I’m sure the competitive spirit that came out in her horse riding has come through in her music and in her business career.
There are probably many more examples of successful people that have played sports both growing up and into their adult life. I know that I meet successful people in my community all the time at the golf course. I play weekly in a league and on the weekends with a regular group. It’s always competitive and we bring out the best in each both on and off the course. I think it’s healthy to be involved in sports well into adulthood. And it looks like some of the most successful people in history have been involved in sports throughout their lives.