Carla Godsman has recently joined ACT as social media and marketing executive. She believes her experience as a hockey scholar at an American university has taught her many lessons that are equally useful for business success. Here she reveals her 9 business lessons learned through sport.

Carla was a sports scholar in America.

When you hear the words “student athlete”, what do you think of? Do you think back to your time at university when you played a sport for fun and to make some friends? Maybe you also imagine the end-of-year sports ball and all the many club socials. 

Whatever you may be thinking, it is probably very different from my experience. In 2015, I packed up my bags and flew to the US on a hockey (field hockey to Americans) scholarship.

At college in the US, “student athlete” means early morning gym sessions, weekend travel, running from class to practice, study hall hours and extra curriculars. It was hard work but through the good and the bad, there is nothing I would change about being a student athlete. 

Since graduation and having entered the professional world, I have seen the lessons I learnt on the field and in the classroom follow me into my everyday working life. 

9 business lessons learned through sport

1. Good time-management

“10 minutes early is on time. On time is late. And late is unacceptable.” This is one of the many standards we held on the team and it became one of the most important during my four years at college. 

Juggling more than one task at a time is now second nature to me, but it was something I had to work on from day one. Student athletes have no choice but to be organised because you must manage practice, travel for games, morning lift, classes, recovery and study halls. 

My sport ran in the fall season, we played about 18 games in three months and potentially more depending on whether we made playoffs. 

This means I had more time to focus on academics in the off season. However, off season does not mean you finish up with your sport. It is training five days a week, lifting heavier and running faster to prepare for summer training. 

Thankfully, the spring season is less demanding, but I learnt quickly that you must use your free time wisely and you can never take a day off from time management.

Business lesson learned: I’ve had a lot of practice with meeting crucial deadlines as an athlete and since entering the professional world I try to complete tasks 24 hours before the true deadline. This gives me time to look over and ensure all work is of a high standard. 

2 Become a “come with me” teammate

This is the title of lesson #15 from the book “The Hard Hat” by Jon Gordon, which we were assigned as a summer reading. It is a true story about George Boiardi, a Cornell lacrosse player who lost his life during a game. 

It features 21 ways to be a great teammate that George embodied. This one stuck with me because I have learnt the importance of making sure everyone shows up to play. 

You will never be on a team where everyone has the same work ethic or drive, but this is a helpful reminder for me that you should take the time to reach out and include others.

This has allowed me to create relationships and actively do something that will benefit the team and individuals. 

Looking back on my four years as a student athlete, one of my favourite games was during my final year. The night before, I gave the team some advice that I had received: “Play the man, not the name. Play the man, not the number.”

We travelled about six hours on the bus for this game and we beat the #16 team 3-0. It was a great team effort, everyone showed up and embodied the “come with me” teammate attitude. 

I, however, did not play. I had torn my hamstring the week before, but I felt just as big a part of the team as every player on the field because my team included me and celebrated with me. 

Business lesson learned: Working on a team involves more than completing tangible work you have been asked to do. You can’t operate as a team unless you have earned trust and respect from your team, especially if you are in a leadership position. 

Communication is vital in sport and business.

3 Good communication

An important part of sports success is communication. Playing on four different teams across four years introduced me to a variety of personalities. 

Consistent communication is vital but adapting to the person and understanding how they intake information is also important. 

As the saying goes “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”

As an upperclassman, it became easier to talk more because I was more comfortable and I had the experience as a leader. Not everyone responds well to this, so a big part of communication is listening.

I respected my upperclassmen more when they took the time to listen to me and get to know me as a person, not an athlete. The more I listened, the easier it was to earn trust and communicate with my teammates. They were also less likely to take constructive criticism personally. 

Communication is not always easy, but taking the time to talk with people off the field made the difficult conversations on the field a lot easier. 

Business lesson learned: When working with different people, whether it be on your direct team or a separate department, you must approach and communicate in an appropriate fashion in order to get the best work out of your colleagues. 

4 Trust the process

There were days when I asked myself “why am I doing this” or “why does this matter”. Life and comfort do not co-exist and things will happen that you do not expect. 

Trusting the process is crucial at times when things do not look good. It forces you to be patient and stay motivated to continue with the team’s plan of action. 

I have learnt to accept that hardships will happen and the worst thing you can do is sit back and let it defeat you. It is easy to forget your “why” when expectations are not met, but a journey to success will never be easy. 

A lot of businesses look for “goal-oriented” candidates, but I found having this mentality can focus too much on the end goal and not the process. Being a student athlete gave me the opportunity to work on being more patient and think less about instant gratification and more about trusting the process.

Business lesson learned: Marketing is a sector where things do not happen overnight, which is why we create long term marketing plans. You can not succeed in the long run if you do not tackle each individual stage. Some of them may fail and some may be tedious, but we have to follow them to achieve the final goal. 

5 Learning to win and lose

Along with trusting the process, is overcoming failure. I joined the hockey team early in the rebuilding stages, so it is fair to say I know how to lose. 

But losing so much made the victories ever more special. 

As we began to strengthen, the losing became more painful and we looked closer at why we lost to teams that we really should be defeating. 

I allowed myself to reflect a loss on Monday, which was our off day and Tuesday would be a fresh start. This was something I tried to do after winning as well. Enjoy the victory, but Tuesday was a new day and we had to focus on the next task. 

As an athlete in secondary school, we were used to winning. Coming to the US as a student athlete where some of the girls are older and tougher, you must accept that losing is not the end of the world. It is a learning opportunity. 

Business lesson learned: The most important part about losing is how you recover from it. Losing is essentially a detour we take to the end goal. Learning to bounce back has allowed me to take more risks and having the confidence that I can recover from them if needs be. 

6 Self-discipline

Time management and dealing with more than one task at a time takes practice, but you must be strategic about it. Self-discipline helped me succeed as a student athlete because it forced me to set daily goals and prioritise tasks that were time sensitive. 

This meant finishing assignments early if we were missing class for travel and making sure you complete study hall hours. It also meant eating right, getting enough sleep and doing recovery after practice. This is particularly crucial for team members, as you must be able to give 100% individually for the team to perform 100% together. 

Coach would remind us in season that we have three options in life – your sport, academics and social life – but you can only choose two. 

Business lesson learned: I have been able to carry this with me into my professional life, discipling myself to do what is best for the team. 

7 Control the controllables

There are many wins I have ingrained in my memory and some losses I chose to forget.

If we lost a game, it was most likely because we did not control the controllables. You cannot control the other team, the referees, the weather etc but what you can control is your attitude and your effort. 

Business lesson learned: This is a lesson I will carry with me forever, especially as I begin my journey in the professional world. We present ourselves to different people every day.

It could be people who know you well, like family or friends. It could also be your manager or a client. Whoever it may be, you cannot control what people think of you, but you can control building a reputation and making an effort to present yourself well. 

8 Working under pressure

Are you too singing Queen & David Bowie? A great song, but also a great skill to possess. This is a skill that most people my age add to their CV just to match the requirements on a job description and then hope they are not asked it in an interview. 

Pressure does not have to be associated with having more authority and control. We all experience pressure in different capacities. 

As a student athlete, I learned to manage working under pressure.

Business lesson learned: After I graduated and began working, I found the  skill of working under pressure came into play because it allowed me to stay confident and focused. 

Carla brings lessons learned on the hockey field to her business career.

9 You are only human!

Lastly, humans make mistakes. Making mistakes does not need to be so detrimental if we keep going and focus on recovering quickly, rather than dwelling on the error. 

We talk a lot about short-term and long-term goals as athletes. We need to look at both when trusting the process. 

Business lesson learned: I graduated over a year ago and I have made mistakes in my work, but it is best to acknowledge and learn from it. Luckily, in an office setting, you don’t have to do any punishment runs, but making mistakes as an athlete and in the classroom has built my confidence in asking for help rather than hoping it will be ok.

At the end of the day, we are only human. 

  • Do you have any lessons that you have learned away from the office that have helped you in your business?