Shop Talk: What Can Sports Psychology Teach The CSuite

Jake Thompson wanted to be Jerry Maguire. Instead of a sports agent however, the proud TCU Horned Frog grew up to be a leadership coach who uses sports psychology concepts to helps leaders boost their performance and create better personal and professional skills.

Based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Thompson is also a speaker, author, and podcaster. In his book Compete Every Day he shares the seven key choices that leaders make in order to enhance their focus, increase their levels of success, and win their work and life. On the podcast of the same name he shares tips in multiple episodes each week. As a coach, he’s worked with global brands like Titleist, FootJoy, National Breast Cancer Foundation and Direct Diamonds.

We talked to Thompson about what sports psychology can teach us about leadership, what it means to “compete everyday,” and the importance of authenticity and transparency in today’s corporate world.

Helm: What can you bring from sports psychology to leadership principles?

Jake Thompson: Everything from mindfulness to emotional control to routines. From a leadership standpoint, it’s the ability to remain, as the late sports psychologist Trevor Moawad would say, more neutral in the face of stress and challenges. That creates a position for you to be more consistent in how you show up, which makes it easier for teams to follow and be influenced by you. The more unpredictable you are as an individual, the harder it is for people to know how to respond, which makes them much more hesitant to follow you.

Helm: What is the idea behind “compete every day”?

JT: What I try to reinforce over and over is the Theodore Roosevelt quote about “The Man in the Arena.” Roosevelt said that the credit belongs to the man who’s actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. [He’s in a] far better place than “those cold and timid souls” who never take the chance, who never bet on themselves, who sit on the sidelines and criticize and play it safe.

I relate to that too: How do we help leaders get on the field? Because leadership takes courage. It takes courage to step on the field in sports knowing that you may not win today. How do you take that courage to expand your comfort zone, to increase your ability? The foundation of what I believe is that we do the work to improve ourselves not for ourselves, not for our own glory, not for anything other than to bring the best possible version of ourselves every day to the people we work alongside and the people we care about in the communities we live in. And if everyday we’re committed to improvement, we give them a better version of ourselves than if we just go through the motions complacently.

Helm: What is the thought leadership component in what you teach?

JT: We have a model for breaking up this idea of competition into three core components, CED. The “C” is the idea of chasing excellence. We teach processes and actions to put your focus in the daily pursuit of excellence and improvement over ego. Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy rings incredibly true in this regard.

From there we work on emotional toughness, and by toughness it’s not the inability to feel things, but about the awareness of thoughts and feelings and not being controlled by them. Maybe you have an employee who just frustrates the crap out of you. How do you maintain control of your emotions in that moment, to ask yourself, “What’s my ownership in this situation? How am I coaching and developing this person? And then how am I providing effective feedback versus going off the handle and exploding on him?”

From there we talk dogged determination, and that’s simply from a standpoint of consistency and grit and resilience. It’s easy to be a positive leader when things are going well but how do you handle those situations during tough times?

Helm: Do you think that authenticity and transparency are now more important for business leaders than they have been in the past?

JT: 1,000%.

We know from statistics that well over 50% of people who have left their jobs in the last few years have done so because of the person they directly report to, and most of that is from lack of appreciation, which means there’s a wall between them and their manager.

Obviously, you’re not going to share anything and everything. But you do have to have a level of vulnerability. Brene Brown has stacks of research showing that vulnerability allows connection, that connection allows the opportunity to build trust, that trust is where we start to create an influence as well as appreciation when giving feedback. Especially in today’s world, you cannot say you’re one thing and pretend to be something else and carry it off for very long because of how interconnected we are not only online, but offline. Nothing’s a secret anymore.

Additionally, people have more options for where to work than ever before. We work with a lot of clients in construction and manufacturing and I say, “You know, every one of you in the room, especially the older group, probably had to figure things out on your own. But today your industry is fighting for top talent and if you take that approach, a high performer or someone who you want in your culture will simply say I want to go somewhere where I’m going to be developed, appreciated and feel like I’m part of something.” That takes human connection, which you can’t have inauthentically. People read that, they smell it a mile away. That becomes truly key not only connecting with your team but having the right and opportunity to influence them.

Our thanks to Jake for his time and knowledge. You can find him at LinkedIn here and learn more about Jake and his programs at


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