How playing professional soccer prepared this MBA grad for business school

Upcoming graduate Eddie Edward reflects on some surprising transferable skills

If you knew Eddie Edward in his twenties, you may be surprised to hear that he was convocating from the University of Alberta with an MBA this year. 

As a professional soccer player for nine years, he never really showed any interest in academics. But after retiring at 30, he decided to pursue further education to secure his future as a decision-maker — not just a playmaker. 

Little did he know then that the process of getting into the program – let alone finishing it – would be more challenging than the rigours of life as a professional athlete.

“That process was hands down the toughest thing of my life,” says Edward. 

Edward felt like he had to study overtime just to keep pace with his younger, more academically inclined classmates. Eventually, though, he came to appreciate how his background in sports instilled in him the skills needed to excel in the program and transition into the working world.

“In the MBA program, people started telling me, ‘You're a really good people person,’” he says. “And I was like, ‘No, I'm not. I just listen or I pay attention. It's easy, right?’ But it turns out it’s not for everyone.”

As Edward starts his dream job as a Senior Consultant in People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young in Ottawa, he reflects on some of the skills he developed in his career as a professional athlete that have proven to be assets in the world of business:

1. High EQ

Whether it’s game day or training day, professional athletes are continually placed in situations where the stakes are high. They’re forced to develop emotional intelligence to thrive in this environment, which entails understanding and managing emotions – yours as well as others’ – to overcome challenges and defuse conflict. 

“When you're working in such a high-stress environment, you need to be able to connect with all kinds of people and assess where they are at in that moment and how to best connect and get through to them,” explains Edward. 

“If you use the wrong tone or body language, chances are that person is going to shut down and get defensive. Then it’s gonna be a waste of everyone’s time.” 

Working on a group project in business school or communicating with clients in the real world isn’t much different. “You’re dealing with people from all walks of life, so you need to learn how to read them and tailor your approach in various different situations.”

2. Bouncing Back

Like most professional athletes, Edward has had to deal with his fair share of setbacks in his soccer career. He’s suffered injuries —including tearing his ACL and LCL — he’s gone through losses, bad seasons and teams not wanting to sign him. “You go through massive highs and massive lows and you have to bounce back because you are graded on your performance every single day.”  

This turned out to be the ideal training ground to prepare Edward for studying for the GMAT to get into the MBA program, which was similarly riddled with challenges. “I just had to keep telling myself, ‘You may not get this concept, but you have to study it again. You may not have gotten the grade that you wanted on the practice test, but you're gonna get better next time’.” 

After each setback, he had to find it within himself to not give up — luckily, he wasn’t doing it alone. 

It truly does take a village, and I am forever grateful to my wife and family for encouraging me and unconditionally supporting me throughout my soccer journey and my transition into the MBA. For me, resilience means the ability to listen to that support system when they say, ‘You can do this’.”

3. Finding Strengths in Others

While working as a Chapter Leader with Net Impact, a student-run consulting group, Edward remembers one of the members coming up to him and confiding that they were struggling with a teammate who wasn’t pulling their weight. Without even a moment’s hesitation, he responded with: Have you considered that this person just isn’t in the right role? 

“It seemed so intuitive to me, but I remember it being so eye-opening for the student,” says Edward. In sports, everyone plays a specific position that allows their strengths to shine through and Edward naturally applied this logic to his work in business school without realizing it. He knew that getting people in the right role would be the best way for his groups to perform and succeed.

“In group work situations, I was able to see that when a certain individual was struggling it likely wasn’t their fault. It was probably just because they weren’t equipped with the right competency for the role.” 

Looking back, Edward is grateful for his experience at the U of A for helping him to see the value and utility of his unique skill set as he kickstarts his career in People Advisory Services. 

“The whole experience opened up my eyes to some of my own strengths and qualities. I don't think if I spoke to you before my MBA I would speak with such confidence about myself.”

Convocation 2023

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