Business and sports share many similarities despite the different modalities through which they are experienced and achieved. In both business and sports, you have to commit to goals, work on a team, devote yourself to learning, and be results-oriented. The parallels between both lanes are undeniable, and during this Trey Athletes’ Fireside Chat with Bob Bowlsby and Tray Thompson, we learned some key lessons that are directly applicable to starting a successful career in sports.
Bob and Tray were an incredible duo, sharing their insights and experiences regarding exceptional navigation of both sports and business. Bob is one of the most respected athletic administrators in the nation, and he currently serves as Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference. And Tray is the Community Relations Manager for the Dallas Mavericks’ esports venture, Mavs Gaming. Bob and Tray are both former college athletes who have used their journeys as athletes to propel their treks as professionals, integrating what they’ve absorbed from their time as competitors into their lives as sports management professionals. We’ve included three of the most salient lessons learned from the Fireside Chat below:
- Your Journey is Not Linear: Bob and Tray both talked about their professional paths which have led to where they are now and how their journey has not been a predictable straight line. Often, the opportunities they received were not top-of-mind, but they maintained a neutral, opportunistic approach and developed a muscle to remain nimble in their careers in order to take advantage of alluring opportunities as they arose. Bob was an athletic director at the tender age of 31-years-old. We’re not 31 just yet; but we’re pretty close, and we can’t imagine having that type of responsibility and accountability at such a young age. However, Bob took on the challenge when it was offered, despite being totally unexpected. Bob mentioned that we should all embrace different possible pathways because we never truly know where we’ll end up. The more exposure we have, the more experiences and contacts we’ll accumulate, which will open more doors for our careers. Additionally, while on this journey, connect your agility with staying serious about your goals in order to maintain that fire and hunger. As humans, we are multifaceted, and we can and should try new and multiple opportunities, which will often lead us down the most colorful and fulfilled paths.
- Resilience Is Key: As athletes, we often get our butts kicked, and we have to get up the next day to push forward. We’ve both personally experienced this as former college athletes; and according to Bob and Tray, this is one of the best preparations for life. You’re going to get knocked down, but you have to get back up; and as you develop that confidence in your ability to recover from defeat, you will be able to consistently overcome the hardships and adversity that you’ll face in both business and life. Tray told an incredible story of his time as an athlete in high school, when his team placed last in their State Championship meet. They went home feeling defeated, but they knew that they had a chance for redemption. They fishhooked that grit and hustle from deep in their souls, focusing on training and improvement — then they came back the next year and won first place at the State Championships. In business, this same energy is needed to be successful. You may not get the best feedback on a recent project, you may not get the promotion you wanted, or maybe you don’t hit your monthly sales target; but you have to get up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and try again. Because that’s the true definition of success: persistence in the face of adversity until you finally cross the finish line.
- Hard Work Is Required: A key thread throughout this conversation was leaning into working hard in order to become the best version of yourself. Whether Bob is completing interviews with athletes to learn more about how the Big 12 Conference can best serve their needs, or Tray is on the phone with a sales lead creating deeper connections to secure a deal, you have to work as hard as you can, going above and beyond, in order to reach the heights of exceptional achievement. Growing up, our piano teacher used to always say, “the only measure of excellence is consistency,” and consistency is hard work. As athletes, we know the grind of consistently waking up early for workouts, or giving it our very last breath to complete a sprint or that last rep. This concept isn’t foreign to us, and we must apply this concept to other areas of our life in order to be successful young professionals .
Bob and Tray dropped some awesome tips for success, and we hope you integrate them into your lives as you think about what success looks like for you as a student, an athlete, and a young professional. How can you apply some of these learnings to your life right now, so you can climb the ranks in both sports and in your work?
As you embark on your journey, try to stay flexible in embracing opportunities as they arise; apply athletic lessons to your life by persisting through adversity and staying consistent in your dedication to your craft; and remember Commissioner Bowlsby’s words: “A career is a lot like athletics… you get out of it what you put in it.”
Sidenote Plug: One of the objectives for this Fireside Chat was to think about how you can develop a career in sports starting now as a high schooler. We’d like to challenge you to keep two programs on your radar as you matriculate into college: one is the Summer Venture in Management Program at Harvard Business School. This program exposes college students to careers in management as taught by the famed business in sports and entertainment HBS professor, Anita Elberse. Additionally, as you craft your careers, you may be interested in completing the Management Leadership for Tomorrow Career Prep and/or MBA Prep program(s) while you’re in college and beyond. MLT is a diversity pipeline for Fortune 500 companies and business schools, and it helps underrepresented minority students get the tools and knowledge they need to succeed in business. Please consider reading more and applying!
Camille McGirt is a former collegiate women’s basketball player and current MBA student at Harvard Business School. Camille holds sports close to her heart and loves the fun, grit, and tenacity of competition. She has a social enterprise that she started in 2011 to enhance the health/wellness of black girls, Healthy Girls, Inc. Additionally, she recently launched EXTA, a mobile technology that allows athletes to get personalized mental sports performance support. During those times when Camille isn’t working, she’s likely hanging out with family/friends, traveling, working out, or trying out new delicious food!
Emanuel McGirt played football at NC State as an offensive tackle from 2015-2020. He is now working as a Project Coordinator for the NC Department of Administration and is also the co-founder of EXTA, a mobile technology that allows athletes to get personalized mental sports performance support. Emanuel experienced two injuries while playing college sports and feels very passionate about ensuring that all athletes have the tools they need to get their physical body and mental psyche in shape — always ready to play! In his free time, he enjoys freelance writing, working out, and playing Call of Duty!