Transferable skills: From the sports world to the workplace

Photo: Electric Umbrella

Lessons learned on the field and on the water

— By Kia Schollar

Participating in sports can be transformational — both for the body and the mind.

But we don’t always think of the long term and the ways sport may help our career. caught up with former national team paddler Jillian D’Alessio, 32, of Halifax, and retired Canadian Football League player Scott Flory, 41, of Regina, Sask., to find out just what it’s like transferring the knowledge gained through sport to the workplace.

Building a practice

Jillian D'Alessio is a former elite paddler who now works as a lawyer in Halifax.

Jillian D'Alessio is a former elite paddler who now works as a lawyer in Halifax.

D’Alessio started paddling at the age of eight and quickly emerged on the international scene, representing Canada for 11 years. D’Alessio raced at the Olympic Games in 2004, stroking the women’s K-4 team to an 8th-place finish. After her time in sport, she transferred much of her passion and skill into academics, becoming a lawyer for a civil litigation firm in Halifax.

Just like in sport, it takes time to hone your skills and she notes she’s still “very much learning and building a practice.”

She also stays involved in the paddling community, serving on the board of directors with Canoe Kayak Canada and the Banook Canoe Club in Dartmouth, N.S.

Flory started playing football when he was 10 with Regina Minor Football. His athletic pathway continued through high school and earned him an invitation to play with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

After earning his engineering degree, Flory, an offensive lineman, played pro with the Montreal Alouettes from 1998 through the 2013 season. Flory was a member of three Grey Cup winning teams in Montreal.

Tackling new challenges

University of Saskatchewan football coach Scott Flory.

University of Saskatchewan football coach Scott Flory.

After retiring from playing, Flory took on the volunteer position of president with the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) and moved back to Saskatchewan to become offensive coordinator with the varsity Huskies.

He was named head coach last spring.

What did the transition from sport life to career look like for these elite, and highly successful, athletes?

First off, the change did not happen with the snapping of their fingers.

“Overall, athletes have a comfort level in their hub — but there is (often) an insecurity when they leave their sport,” Flory says.


Transferable skills and adaptability

He says many athletes seem to have a hard time “recognizing their transferrable skills.” Understanding their adaptability when asked to learn something new is an amazing strength, he adds.

This adaptability is what allows athletes to see the importance of “working as a team; managing their time; and being able to multitask.”

D’Alessio agrees adaptability is something athletes bring to the workforce.

In both settings, “if you are too rigid in your approach, you run the risk of getting derailed by any setback,” D’Alessio says.

She says she finds she can reduce stress significantly when she can be flexible and move as things alter and change along the way.

Through her participation in sport, D’Alessio says she was able to learn how to "create pathways around roadblocks, challenges, or hurdles.”



Intrinsic drive, doing what it takes

D’Alessio learned how to break down a goal into the smaller steps needed to achieve success. Paddling also gave her insight into how to prepare for important events.

She has been able to translate this from the field of play to academics and work in various contexts, including with school exams, presentations, and speaking in court.

D’Alessio and Flory agree skills they’ve learned participating in sport have transferred into their careers.

No. 1 on the list for Flory is work ethic.

Flory firmly believes individuals and teams can not reach an elite level “without having an intrinsic drive” to be the best.

This is also true in the workforce, and athletes “know what it takes to get the job done,” he says, and they’re willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

If you are too rigid in your approach, you run the risk of getting derailed by any setback
— Jillian D'Alessio, Olympian and lawyer

The value of discipline

Discipline is next on his list.

This includes “big picture thought and how (one) formulates choices,” Flory says.

His mantra is “if you preach it, live it.”

Flory explains that as head coach at the University of Saskatchewan, he regularly preaches to players. If they’re to listen, he has to be an example of the values he talks about whether it’s the way he speaks to people, the way he maintains control or the way he shows diligence in taking care of all the details.

If you preach it, live it.
— Scott Flory, University of Saskatchewan football coach

Coping with stress

For D’Alessio, a skill she developed on the water and in training is the ability to compartmentalize stress.

D’Alessio used to think of this as “leaving the competing” on the water, in the gym, in the pool, at the rink or on the track.

An example is at training camp. For weeks on end, you’re competing for  a spot on a team.

“You’re competing against these athletes on the water, but living with them and hanging out with them, daily, in every other aspect of your life.”

D’Alessio tries to separate stress at work from stress at home. She admits she hasn’t mastered the skill yet in the work world, but it’s something she learned from sport and continues to develop.

No immediate reward

Patience is another skill learned through sport. Flory describes it as the ability to work hard for something, show grit and determination, without always receiving an immediate reward.

Patience is a critical part of teaching and understanding, he says.

Whether you developed these skills as a young adult or are working on them now, remember, setbacks are part of the game.

Developing these skills is a journey and striving to be better each day is progress.