Setting youth free

Setting youth free

Sport, like art, admires youth. Think back to all the fresh talent you’ve seen over the years, the next big thing, the breakthrough season. It’s inspiring stuff.

Setting youth free

With my own dogs recent passing and Emily and her dogs needing help I decided to join in on an amazing campaign.

Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in history. She’s 22 years old.

At 24 years (and 138 days) old, Patrick Mahomes just became the youngest ever person to both win the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP.

Killian Mbappé, it’s sometimes hard to remember, is only 21. He’s only the second teenager, behind Pele, to score in a World Cup Final. He won the world cup aged 18.

Magnus Carlsen has just set the longest ever unbeaten run as a chess grandmaster. He’s only 29.

Sport, like art, admires youth. Think back to all the fresh talent you’ve seen over the years, the next big thing, the breakthrough season. It’s inspiring stuff.

The world laughed when Venus Williams once said in a post-Wimbledon interview to watch out for her younger sister (Serena had yet to turn pro) as ‘she’s better than me’. They’re not laughing now.

So, what I’d like to know is this: why is it that we celebrate youth in a sport setting (and in the arts, and music), but not so much in business?

I’ve thought about this over the past few days and a few things occurred to me:

First, sportspeople (and artists and musicians) normally start much younger than a businessperson starts in business. True, there are exceptions, and they are all entrepreneurs (because it’s illegal to employ people of under a certain age, for starters). So, by the time that young sportspeople hit their stride and go pro, they’ve already had the discipline of years of training – mind, body, sleep, nutrition, media, marketing, use of social media. You name it. They have been coached all their lives.

Second, the only thing you are protecting in sport is your win/loss ratio. In business, you may be protecting your organisation’s position, your own position, your boss’s position. You are paid not to take risks. Failure and lesser results often lead to expulsion. That’s a marked difference. People often lose sight of the need to ‘play’ at work – to treat it like it’s a game. There are rules, there are ‘ways of doing things’ but there’s also challenge and finding new ways. For me, this is where youth adds something new and fresh and interesting to the workplace.

But more than all of that is the mindset of youth: sport often requires peak physical conditioning which is often thought of as something that only young people can achieve. (I’d disagree with that and think that great physical conditioning is attainable at any age. It may be easier to attain when young, but it is sustainable throughout your life.) But on the mindset point, I think that people believing that they are young and have permission to practice and try new things and even ‘fail’ at work (in the right conditions), that’s a huge opportunity for business. It’s through failure that we learn the most about ourselves, and the most about how to win.

Finally, I used to play a pro sport in a team where many of the best players were younger and yet on some form of junior contract which didn’t reward them in line with their contributions. That can create an imbalance in a team. A workplace that celebrates both the contributions of young employees and encourages its longer-standing employees to be young at heart sounds like the kind of firm that’s well set for success.

Charlie Archibald
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