Mentoring Olympians

The world is poised for elite athletes to take up leadership roles in society, politics, and the global economy. In a historic alliance, the United Nations joined forces with the International Olympic Committee, recognizing the important role sport can play in building a peaceful and sustainable society.

The question is: are elite athletes ready to lead off the athletic field? 

The latest research shows that sports play a critical role at every stage of professional women’s lives(1), and for a long time we’ve known the same to be true for men.

However, it’s one thing for someone to use the skills they learned through sport to climb the corporate ladder if they started working right out of college and quite another thing for an Olympian, who’s entering the work force after being at the top of the podium.

Pro athletes and Olympians need a distinct set of skills to help them translate and effectively apply the heightened sense of focus, expectations, determination, result-orientation, teamwork and other useful skills; otherwise, the intensity an elite athlete brings to a business setting can obliterate the room.

Fortune 500 CEO of Ingredion, Ilene Gordon, sums up her ideal candidate in these words: “I look for young people who have a lot of energy and drive to get things done, who don’t give up, and keep an eye on where they’re going, who are very focused and organized but are also able to collaborate with other people (team).”

If this depicts an elite athlete, you’re absolutely right. Elite athletes have honed all of those skills for decades and this is why they are poised to make a significant impact on the organization they join.

And then, Ilene Gordon adds: “The key question I always ask is: Who mentored you? … I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.”

Having the support of a mentor can help Olympic athletes take years off the process transitioning from sport to business. On top of that, a well-connected mentor can open up their network, and that’s where the opportunities are limitless.

Tune in for Part 2: What makes mentoring work? Follow me on Twitter @LinaTaylorInt

Mentoring Olympians and pro athletes has been Lina’s passion and she’s proudly serving as a mentor with the United States Olympic Committee’s Athlete Career & Education Program.


  1. Where will you find your next leader? EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW, 2015.
  2. Bryant, Adam, When I Hire You, I’m Hiring Your Mentors’ Judgement, The New York Times, 2013.

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