Should Businesses Treat Their Employees Like Professional Athletes?

With all of the fame, fortune and fans, it’s easy to forget that professional sports are a business. Franchises have owners, manager and individual contributors. I wonder if businesses could learn a thing or two from professional sports, and treat their employees like professional athletes?

Should Businesses Treat Their Employees Like Professional Athletes?

Despite all of the things that seem to accompany the fame, fortune and fans, there are many things professional sports teams do right.

Professional teams…

Place people according to their strengths – Shaquille O’Neal missed almost as many free throws as he made, but he was allowed to focus on using his physical size to be one of the best players in professional basketball. Instead of receiving coaching to improve on his areas of weakness, he was put into a position where he could be strong.

Allow their team members to play to those strengths – Mickey Mantle is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest hitter in baseball history. But did you know that Mantle missed his mark 70% of the time for a batting of average of .298? Personally, I find this encouraging. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to be perfect, successful, or right, all the time. Mickey was never criticized for not being a great pitcher, or a weak third baseman, or a poor catcher behind home plate. He was allowed to focus on his specialty, and he was great at it.

Keep a great bench – Most professional teams have a minor league team that they pull from. They keep a bench of potential prospects that they could recruit from if one of their main players got hurt or sick. As John Maxwell writes in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, “Great teams have great depth.” Maxwell also reminds us that Joe Montana sat on the bench for two years, as did Steve Young, who was on the bench behind Montana.

Some of the leaders I know use the phrase “up or out,” meaning that they want their team members to always be moving up through the business or out of the way. Having a strong bench would allow for both.

Focus on training and development – Malcolm Gladwell, in his fantastic book Outliers, illustrates how professionals, in order to become professionals, spend more than 10,000 hours practicing. Michael Jordan spent hours shooting basketballs. Michael Phelps would spend more than five hours every day in the pool. With preparation and practice like that, these two athletes were able to rise to the top.

Both businesses and sports teams are made up of people. Whether you’re a low-level employee, a highly paid manager, or a professional athlete, you and the people like you are the most valuable resources your team has.

Question: Would you want to be want your company to treat you like a professional athlete? Why or why not? Let me know by leaving a comment here!


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  • Dan Erickson

    If they paid me athlete pay for teaching I’d be okay with that.

    • Ellory Wells

      Ya, I hear that! Keep writing those books and you’ll get there!

  • Mary Nelson

    Looking for what a person does best and offering encouragement and support would be a pleasant change. I found working situations very difficult and I do not miss it. Painting and relocating, taking care of grandkids has been fulfilling. Now I would like to connect for fun its a well earned perk of seniorhood.

    • Ellory Wells

      Mary, thank you for your comment.

      I don’t believe we can ever receive enough encouragement.

      In fact, I’m reading on my back porch right this moment and came across this sentence from “It’s Your Ship” – “I’m absolutely convinced that positive, personal reinforcement is the essence of effective leadership.”

      Stay busy, stay creative, stay positive!

      Come back and see me again!