Sport - the school of soft skills

By Grant Elliott, former Black Cap and Head of Business Development and Partnerships at Minded

As I come closer to the reality of a career on the field coming to an end and a life of suiting up and facing what all my friends call ‘the real world’, I reflect on how sport can shape character and give us some essential skills for the work place.

There are a number of studies and increasing emphasis being placed on the need to teach our children ‘soft skills’. Having just a qualification is no longer good enough. Recently we saw 100 companies sign a letter stating they were taking a more open approach to employment, not limiting job candidates to those with tertiary qualifications.

The letter is addressed to all New Zealanders and states “We will now consider applicants for a wide range of roles regardless of whether or not they hold a tertiary qualification. As businesses, our focus will be on assessment of necessary skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability to join our organisations.

Prior work experience (full or part-time), community work, portfolios, online learning and entrepreneurial endeavours will be some of the things we will consider during the employment process. We recognise that new jobs require new skills. We welcome a new generation of employees with diverse skills and talent.” Read the full version at

I recently had a bit of time to reflect on what a career in international cricket has given me and how important some of these skills are, now that I’m transitioning to life after sport.

Having been born and raised in South Africa, I was subjected to a very diverse mix of cultures. I learnt to respect the diversity of amazing people I met along my journey. Listening and speaking with all sorts of people during a very sensitive time of change in the nation helped me develop empathy and compassion for different cultures.

From the age of 12, cricket has always been a huge passion for me. I’d always aspired to be an international cricketer. Starting my professional cricket career in 1996 was a dream come true and the fulfilment of a long held ambition.

Immigrating to New Zealand in 2003, I stayed on the professional cricket pathway and for the next 14 years, travelled the world, playing with a changing room of diverse characters. As a cricketer you are constantly reflecting and reviewing your performance, looking at ways to get more efficient, communicating with peers and coaches, setting goals, failing and getting back up, dealing with confrontation…the list goes on.

I’m so fortunate to have been exposed (and often subjected!) to some challenging situations that allowed me to hone a range of soft skills. I’ve come to realise that being in an elite sporting environment is a unique experience and it would be a shame if we as sportspeople weren’t able to reflect on our experiences and realise that we have learnt a lot of critical skills.

Research from Professor Demming of Harvard University shows us that in recent years, many jobs requiring only technical skills have been automated and this trend is set to continue. The roles of bank tellers and statistical clerks for example, have become increasingly automated. At the other end of the spectrum, jobs which require predominantly social skills (childcare workers, for example) tend to be poorly paid as the supply of potential workers is very large.

The study shows that workers who successfully combine technical and interpersonal skills in the knowledge-based economies of the future should find many rewarding and lucrative opportunities.

At Minded, our online learning platform teaches the personal and interpersonal skills which are imperative to work readiness and being effective in the modern day workplace. Skills like:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Planning and setting goals
  • Confusion, confrontation and conflict
  • Working well with others
  • Responding to feedback

There will be a lot of sportspeople out there who will be very well equipped for the jobs of the future.

I believe sports plays such an important part in society, it brings communities together. We need to encourage sports in our communities combined with modern, forward thinking learning that prepares young people for the jobs of the future.

Find out more at