Olympic rower Brian Price once tried to work while training, but found he just ended up doing both badly. However, once he retired that meant leaving behind something he’d done exclusively for more than a decade, for a business world he didn’t know.
“What we’re doing is leaving something behind that we’re the best in the world at. Our fear is ‘Now what?’ “ Price told HRM. “I’ve devoted so much of my life to the sport, what do I do now?”
But when you break down the skills professional sports people develop as they train it suddenly looks pretty transferable: teamwork, work ethic, coachability, determination and long-term goal setting.
That’s what RBC saw when they launched its Olympians program in 2002, with the goal of giving current and retired Olympic and Paralympic athletes work experience and bringing them on as community ambassadors to bring the Olympic messages of excellence, teamwork, leadership, and commitment to communities. In the past 12 years almost 200 athletes have gone through the program, with about 10 becoming full time employees.
It’s easy when hiring to look at specific work experience, but the core transferable skills Olympians bring to a role can make them successful in almost any industry.
When Price was contemplating retirement he didn’t want to rely only on speaking engagements. RBC gave him the opportunity to try different things in different departments and business lines.
For current athletes the bank offers career oriented experience, with a flexible schedule. For retired athletes it’s about real life work experience and the chance to evaluate where they want to take their career post-Olympics.
“I think we get as much from the athletes as they get from us,”Gottschling said, pointing to their role as brand ambassadors and the internal role they play in speaking on teamwork and commitment, as well as the transferable skills they bring to their business positions.
“They bring a lot to the workplace,” Helena Gottschling, SVP of Leadership & Organizational Development said. “The athletes are incredibly coachable and they’re experts at taking feedback. Those are qualities that aren’t easily taught. Determination, work ethic, what it means to be part of a team – those are all experiences that are directly transferable when you think about leadership attributes.”
Advice to HR:
Understand the pros
You can teach a lot of technical skills, Gottschling says, but the traits, qualities and experiences Olympians bring to the table are not easily taught.
Keep an open mind
Don’t make an assumption about an individual’s abilities or long term goals based on their early experience. A lot of athletes have been so focused on one thing they didn’t have the time to consider what they want to do long term. Employers can help by asking the right questions, not assuming they already know the answers.
Think long term
Olympians are used to setting four year goals and working to achieve them, Price said. When you’re talking to an athlete about areas of development
set long term goals and talk to them about working backwards from there. “Utilize those abilities in terms of long term goal planning and the way we approach it,” Price said.