How Sports Impacts The Lives Of Girls And Women Long After Their Playing Days Are Done

by Justin Sayban

The old adage that sports builds character, mental toughness, teamwork and other intangibles that will last a lifetime appears to be especially true for girls and women.

Team sports offer lessons to girls that they often don't get elsewhere, experts say. And research shows experience in sports is a common trait among top female business leaders.

"Sports, and particularly team sports, tend to give women and girls things that they otherwise have a hard time getting, like resilience, grit, knowledge of teamwork, knowledge of leadership. All of these things are crucial and they all are learned probably better on a sports team than anywhere else," said Debora Spar, a professor at Harvard Business School, who moderated a panel about women in sports, leadership and empowerment the school hosted on campus earlier this year.

The panel, which also featured Harvard's Women's Basketball Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith and Boston Celtics Director of Player Development Allison Feaster, presented some of the sharpest minds in sports, government and business.

"Fifty-two percent of senior female executives played sports at the university level, compared to 39 percent of women at other management levels," said Spar, citing data from a 2014 study of 400 female C-suite executives conducted by espnW and Ernst & Young. "Eighty percent of the female Fortune 500 executives played competitive sports at one point in their life."