From Corporate to the Gym: Five Traits I Took with Me

I have the wonderful privilege of being jobless. Yes, you read that right, jobless. That’s because I wake up and coach women’s volleyball at a Division I program, and I don’t consider this a job, but a way of life. Hopefully I’ll never have to work another day in my life, and stay in these moments!

It wasn’t always that way. I’ve had many opportunities in my life that have molded me into the best assistant coach I can be for my program, and I don’t take these life lessons for granted. In fact, I believe that my stint in Corporate America and in the Military forged my current life path, and allows me to have a unique perspective working in collegiate athletics.

While I do coach in women’s volleyball, I believe that these five traits I found that helped me in the corner office now helps me in my athletic program, and I hope it helps you as well.

The Buck Stops With Me
Accountability is such a buzz word, that I didn’t want to really use it in this article, but it’s very important. Everyone is accountable in Corporate America, from the CEO of the company to its stockholders to the night shift security guard at a factory. In a world when dollars and cents are counted, people want to draw responsibility to someone, something. It’s an inescapable reality, and a lot of young executives make the mistake of not recognizing accountability when they see it.

As an assistant coach, it would be easy for me to say that losing a match “happens”. Accountability won’t let me say that. It reminds me that something happened that cause us to lose. Maybe our scouting was off, we didn’t prepare our athletes for the tasks at hand, we didn’t encourage our players to make the right decisions. Or the monkey in the room, putting the blame on the player. In the end of the day, the coaching staff picked that player to be a part of the organization, so the “buck” stops with the coaching staff. Once this reality can set in, getting down to the business of making the player better can be efficient.

When to Say Yes, and When to Say No
The one thing I could never stand in Corporate America was “yes” men. These are employees that simply are there to not cause problems and will agree when they feel like it will steer them away from trouble. They are toxic to corporations, as shown by the recent financial distress in companies. Have the courage to look people, especially authoritative figures, in the eyes and tell them the whole truth, without fear on consequences.

One of the biggest things I do for my head coach is to really avoid being a “yes” man. Now, do not get that confused with not being loyal. In the end of the day, recognizing that the head coach of the program is the deciding factor in all decisions is key; however my job is to ensure that he has all the options laid out in front of him before making a decision. I also know that he will make the right decisions, because I do not fear the consequences of putting my opinion out there. If I am morally and ethically correct, I shouldn’t have to fear my opinion. If I do, it’s time to find another program.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
One of the biggest things I have to do in my coaching profession is work with other organizations. Whether its internal departments like facilities or junior club coaches in recruiting their players, being a people-person is a must. I learned this early on as an officer in the USAF. When I graduated college, I was anxious to “lead”, but I didn’t know what that meant.

For the longest time I thought everyone had to know I was the leader, when by treating them as teammates, I found that more got accomplished, and they didn’t need me to tell them I was their leader, it was their job. As I got into corporate America, I really tried not to lead by title, but by example. I made sure that everyone felt like they were part of the team, actually INTEGRAL to the team.

Here in college athletics, I think it’s extremely important to make everyone feel as part of the team. So many times, organizations that support the coaches feel like they aren’t important, just a cog in the wheel. Make them part of the team, get them excited about the sport, and you will be surprised at what they will do for you.

Always Know What They Are Thinking
Going to a military academy for college is definitely an interesting experience to say the least! Graduating from high school, I was top of the class, excelled in sports, and had all the friends I wanted. But once I got to the Air Force Academy, I was just one of 1000 cadets that had the exact same story as me. In fact, most of them had BETTER stories than me, and I found myself fighting to stay up top.

Situation Awareness is the ability to know what’s going on around you at all times. The Air Force uses this principle to talk about their fighter pilots, and how they must maintain an awareness around their aircraft at all times in order to understand how their own actions will affect the environment around them, either letting them succeed or fail at their mission.

In collegiate athletics, it’s knowing how others perceive them, or more importantly, how they affect others. This is especially true in coaching interactions with student athletes. Most of us over-estimate our abilities, and we must be careful not to mis-represent ourselves in front of the players. This can mean disaster in corporate America, and can be hurtful in sports. Practicing self-awareness constantly, by having a mentor and/or identifying strengths and weaknesses is critical to being successful in coaching (and in life).

Moving With Purpose
It’s fitting that this is the last trait. While all of these traits are important, the culprit of inefficiency in corporate America is the lack of decisive decision making. I cannot tell you the number of meetings I have attended when senior leaders waivered and could not come to a resolution on a certain issue. We’re all afraid of being held liable for a bad decision, but failing to make a timely decision can be disastrous as well!

Now, I am not saying that being decisive should be confused with being not a team player. It’s important to hear all the opinions, and make the right decision; however we should all be aware of the costs of not doing something, and the costs of going back and forth on a decision. The concept of “Moving with purpose” allows us to be confident in our decisions and allows us to get back to doing the important things for the program.

Would love your feedback! You can reach me at twitter @NickiHolmesUCF and/or!