Developing Young People into Tomorrow's Business Leaders Through Sports

Anthony Brown is the CEO of RISE, an organization which helps youth develop leadership skills through sports. Armed with 19 seasons as a youth, high school, collegiate and semi-professional football coach, an M.B.A. in Organizational Behavior, and a Russ Jackson Award for best combining athletic performance, academic excellence and community involvement, Mr. Brown understands the importance of the skills that are acquired through competitive sport and how they can be transferable to any area of life. We talked with him to discuss how the leadership skills acquired through sport are relatable to the qualities and skills needed to be a workplace leader. This article sums up the interesting facts we learned from this discussion.

How RISE helps young people prepare for tomorrow

RISE is made up of a collection of educators and coaches who aim to help young athletes understand the process of leadership through athlete support programs. In Mr. Brown’s own words, RISE’s mission is “to give young people the resources they need to develop into team and community leaders.” RISE does this by focusing on sports because there are many skills that can be transferred from the realm of competitive sport to the realm of business and community leadership, such as communication, dealing with adversity, working well with others, and self-motivation.

The idea behind RISE stems from Mr. Brown’s background in Organizational Behavior. With the knowledge of what makes a good business leader in mind, RISE’s CEO compares learning the language behind being a successful executive to learning any language: “When we learn a language, we learn it best as young people. Why wait to identify leaders and give them the language they will need when they become executives? When this happens, they will already have 20 years of leadership language experience under their belts”. The goal of RISE is therefore to prepare young people for the leadership roles they will acquire during their lifetime, whether these roles are related to the workplace or not.

How sports can help in preparing today’s youth for the constantly evolving business world

With all the technological changes that have been coming our way and that will continue to come our way, we must learn to constantly adapt. Young people these days are growing up with texting and the Internet right in their pockets. Literally! They don’t need to go to work or school to talk to people. According to Mr. Brown, playing sports helps to facilitate the development of interpersonal skills, including coming together and working towards a shared goal. In other words, the realm of sports is a perfect metaphor for professional organizations as it, too, necessitates the development of leadership skills in a challenging and changing social environment.

Anthony Brown

Why the leaders of tomorrow will be different than the leaders of the past

In the past, coaches were very authoritarian, and, as Mr. Brown puts it, “there was a centralized feed of power”. This notion of centralized power can also be transferable to the business world. However, about a decade ago, as RISE’s CEO notes, there was a clash between the old school coach and the new kids coming in. Kids started asking more questions such as “Why exactly are we doing this?” and “What is the process?” In other words, they were becoming more engaged. Having engaged athletes, or employees, is a good thing for a team. “We don’t want drones. The authoritarian leader has gone the way of the dinosaur. We need a leader who can share information with our people so that our people can be engaged,” says Mr. Brown. Thus, today’s leaders need to create innovation and drive research. The key is in decentralizing the dissemination of information in order to have everyone engaged. Qualities of the leaders of tomorrow also include being flexible, adaptable to change and being able to move forward.

Why athletes make perfect employees

Mr. Brown says that when companies who are looking for new employees describe what they are looking for, they are describing varsity athletes who have been challenged with the skills required for the job through sports. Some of these skills include communication, self-motivation, self-discipline and the power to engage others. Mr. Brown, who is also Director of the Long-term Athlete Development (LAT) program, says that when athletes come to him, they have already been through high school and have acquired some skills accidently. This is when it is time to help them through the transition towards competitive sport: “It goes from learning about competition to training for competition. We give them the language to talk about it. How do we talk about challenges and failures? How do I understand it myself to then go and motivate others, sometimes to the point of failure. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t pushing yourself enough.” An important part of leadership is thus empowering others. However, before being able to empower others, we must first understand how to motivate ourselves. Tools like the General Profiler for Sports (GPS) can help us understand ourselves and our motivations better by evaluating such aspects as our problem solving style and our perceptual speed, for example. The ability to empower others on your team, whether on the field or in the boardroom, is an important skill that stems from knowing yourself fully.

How playing sports helps young people in getting the job, and after, in doing the job

RISE started out with the idea of recruiting young athletes for entry level positions. According to Mr. Brown, when these young people enter the workforce, they have a huge advantage over the others because they are confident in what they know and who they are. They understand themselves and they understand the process. They’ve learned to focus on this process rather than simply on the results. They therefore know how to get from point A to point B. These are all things that help them explain how they can be of value to the organization and are thus things that employers want to hear. Once they are offered the position and begin to work, they know how to be assertive, positive and confident without being arrogant. The field has given them the courage to brave anything. RISE’s CEO calls this humble confidence the “jock confidence” and says that it, along with many other skills, are transferable to other types of organizations: “Your team is an organization, your school is an organization, your family and your country are organizations , and all of these skills will be transferable everywhere. Sports just gives you more opportunities to test yourself. And that’s really it.”

Kelly Galbraith

Junior Digital Marketing Specialist