Providing employee assistance services for corporations for over 20 years has enabled me to make some observations of how athletics, in junior or senior high school levels help women in both their business and personal lives. This is particularly true for women in management positions. Both in sessions, and in corporate consultations, I routinely ask women about any background in athletics during their adolescent development.
How does it help them? I have seen five ways in which the participation in athletics directly relates to benefits later on in their lives.
First of all whenever personal crises, addictive habits, or a job burnout creates difficulty with mood and energy, a woman who has previously been in athletics, can return to that part of her life's discipline as a way to you begin to get unstuck and recover from this difficulty. They remember the experience of a workout which leaves them pleasantly fatigued, perspiring. Then after experiencing a cleansing shower, getting dressed, the world looks better to them. That is when an individual's brain chemistry is at its best.
Secondly, the experience of putting aside personal differences to work together as a part of a team with other women toward some common goal translates well later on when group projects require teamwork without seeing every other woman as a competitor.
Too often, I have observed women's management styles emulate that of mothers bossing children, giving two kinds of feedback to subordinates – none and negative. The experience of relating to coaches and being coached translates into a management style that provides coaching, teaching, mentoring, encouragement, as well as a matter-of-fact focus on performance expectations. Lack of performance is not seen as a personal affront, but a challenge the subordinate must master.
Being able to push through the hard places in life is a fourth benefit from athletic experiences. There are two sports, more than the others, which breed a certain mental discipline and toughness for experiences later in life: Track and swimming.
“Why these two sports?” you ask. Think of what is involved in the training; hours of solitude, without applause or encouragement, pushing yourself to do your personal best.
Your body says, “This is really getting uncomfortable. I want to quit.”
But your mind overrides the body with, "You will not quit. You will keep going. You are not quitting before you're done.”
Later in life, this experience helps women see themselves through difficulties in both their career and family situations, helping them to push through and finish projects that others would simply neglect or give up on.
Body image issues are greatly minimized when an athlete has spent a time in dialogue with her own body through training and participation in sports. Later on, it makes it much easier for her to return to this dialogue through workout activities in a more productive and friendly way rather than seeing it as a negative contested struggle against her own body.
In my work with families and adolescents, I do promote the notion that it is important for girls at this age to experience some form of athletic endeavor. It pays great mental, physical and psychological benefits for the rest of their lives.