Gymnastics: The Key to Leadership Success?


As a business owner I spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about how to be a successful and more effective leader and entrepreneur.  I am fascinated with the sociological and psychological research on what makes a person successful and the traits of effective leaders.  Recently, after reading several articles and books on these topics, I realized how many of those characteristics and lessons are taught through gymnastics.

Could it be that gymnastics is a stepping-stone to success?

Maybe making such an assertion is a bit of a stretch (pun intended).  Nevertheless, here are some of the qualities that my readings uncovered regarding excellence in the workplace, and how gymnastics teaches them.

  1. Gymnastics teaches how to cope with and learn from failure.  Literally, a gymnast will learn how to fall and pick herself up again.  Over and over, no matter how good she gets at the sport, she will stumble and need to rise.  Sometimes those falls will occur while learning a brand new big trick and sometimes they will be when she is doing something simple that she accomplished years ago.  She will learn how to make the necessary adjustments, physically and emotionally, to get back up and try again.  Coping with and benefiting from failure is a huge advantage in the business world, especially as an entrepreneur.    Being comfortable with the idea of failure and being willing to embrace the lessons of the mistakes is a major part of developing a successful business.
  2. Gymnastics teaches that failure is not the end of the world.  When she fails so often and sees that the world still goes on, failure becomes just a normal part of learning.  That builds resilience, and we all know that resilient people are happier and more successful than those who are not resilient.  Additionally, all that falling down and getting back up develops an ability to keep on trying even when something is difficult or will take a long time to learn.  Grit, that moral resolve and strength of character that forces us to carry on, is an essential trait in business.
  3. Gymnastics teaches patience.  In an instant-gratification-is-not-fast-enough culture, gymnastics teaches kids to work hard and wait for their reward.  Skills do not come instantly and must be trained for weeks, months or even years until they are mastered.  Likewise, being a great leader requires a certain capacity for waiting.
  4. Gymnastics teaches focus and goal setting.  Skills are complicated, routines are precise and there is a great deal to remember in even performing the most simple of skills.  Gymnasts must concentrate on the task at hand.  The world is complicated and distractions are everywhere.  Being able to hone in on the most important aspects of work gets the right work done faster.  Most everything in gymnastics can be broken down into progressions that are essentially pieces that fit together to form a skill (or a larger goal).  Want to learn a back walkover?  First you must learn a bridge and a handstand and then a kick over and a back bend before putting it together into a back walkover.  Learning to break tasks down and working toward each part to achieve the whole is fundamental to goal setting.  Businesses without goals are simply ideas.
  5. Gymnastics teaches how to take constructive criticism.  In a workout, a gymnast will receive dozens of corrections from her coach.  On almost every turn, even those turns that were really good, she will receive corrective feedback.  Gymnasts grow up able to handle teachers and bosses giving them criticism and receive as a normal part of learning.
  6. Gymnastics teaches the value of hard work and discipline.  While gymnastics is and can be a lot of fun, to really get good at it requires long hours, lots of conditioning and flexibility work that is uncomfortable and the endurance to keep going even when she wants to quit because she knows that by sacrificing now the payoff will be worth it.  While owning your own business can be fun, to get it to the point of it being so requires hours and hours of work that is not glamorous or interesting.
  7. Gymnastics teaches how to compete against one’s self.  While gymnasts are ranked at meets according to their scores and given awards from that order, in reality, gymnastics is much more about competing against one’s self than it is another person.  Instead of viewing others as an obstacle to success, gymnastics teaches her to focus on how she can improve her execution to succeed.  Business isn’t about out doing competitors as much as it is about being the best version of one’s self to serve customers.  One can out-do competitors and still be a failure if the product is not one that people value.  Outdoing yourself is the true mark of business success.
  8. Gymnastics teaches humility.  Humility is a trait that is not always appreciated in our society today.  Being humble does not mean that your child thinks themselves as less than, rather it means that she holds a modest opinion of herself and understands that her actions are no less or greater than they actually are.  Humility helps her to assess her strengths and weaknesses accurately.  Humility quickly celebrates successes in order to prepare for the next challenge or goal.  Humble businesses are successful because they are always aware that resting on past success is a guarantee for future failure.
  9. Gymnastics teaches how to conquer fears.  Dismounting from a high bar or flipping on a beam requires not being fearless, but rather how to cope with those fears.  Being an entrepreneur is terrifying.  It means taking your idea and your money and bringing it out for all to judge.  Knowing how to deal with the stress of the possibility of failure is key.
  10. Gymnastics teaches how to manage time.  Being involved in an out of school activity that can take many hours a week teaches gymnasts to use their time wisely.   Most all of the gymnasts I know who train 12 plus hours a week learned to manage their school assignments, family obligations and social life with the finesse of a corporate CEO.

What do you think?  Does doing a sport like gymnastics develop leadership skills?