I've noticed that many successful entrepreneurs have played sports, which got me thinking.
- Does sports training matter to budding entrepreneurs?
- What skills do athletes learn that would benefit a new business owner?
Read on to see why sports are good training for entrepreneurs.
1. The Intent to Win
In sports, the link between progressing in a sport is directly related to your track record of winning. Athletes know that when they step on the playing field, they must have the intent to win and must live in the moment – for the next few minutes, or hours, their world is only the game and what must be done to win it.
I see many young entrepreneurs that want to start the next Google or Amazon. They are talented people, but they don’t have the intent to win. Many entrepreneurs believe it’s about effort.
If they try hard and long enough, then they will eventually succeed in their business. But that’s not true.
- Who hires an attorney who loses all his cases, but tried his best?
- Who engages a physician that never cures their patients of their illnesses?
- Find me an investor who will back an entrepreneur whose previous companies have all failed?
Athletes understand the importance of a consistent level of excellence and winning.
2. Performance Under Pressure
Athletes learn to perform under pressure. While there is pressure to get good grades in school, it’s not as intense as athletics. If you don’t do well in math, you may get a B or C for a grade, but you will still move to the next level. If you don’t do so well in a sports season, you may never have the opportunity to play again.
Even in practice, athletes are under pressure to perform. They have to jump so high or spin so fast by a specific date, or their lack of progress becomes detrimental. If a sports coach knows an athlete is capable of doing something, but just can’t get it, there will be no sympathy from the coach. The coach will push the athlete to perform.
For a company to grow, it must bring in sales so it can pay the staff and reinvest for the future. Without that external pressure to perform, companies remain marginal. In sports, there’s the coach. In a business, it’s the mentors, advisors, business coaches, and shareholders that can provide the accountability necessary to push the company to succeed.
3. Every Sport Is a Team Sport
Your team matters. Even for individual athletes like Apolo Ono, Michelle Kwan, or Shaun White, it’s still about the team hidden behind the curtain. Athletes learn to build a team that can get them the best overall performance.
I see this with new start-up companies. More often than not, the team is a random collection of individuals. Or the team is unbalanced with half the functional areas empty and the other half overstaffed. Seriously, what would happen if the offensive team on a football team fielded five quarterbacks on the field but no wide receivers? Learning how to evaluate who you need on your team and how to build an effective team is imperative for an entrepreneur because no company has reached great heights without a group of employees.
This is important for those solo entrepreneurs or fledgling businesses to learn because it’s easy to become overwhelmed and distracted with mundane work that’s necessary, but doesn’t help reach the end objective. They shouldn’t spend their time on the most impactful tasks and leave the rest for a new employee or outsource the work.
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4. Knowing and Learning from the Competition
Athletes are more than just aware of their competitors. They study and analyze them. They learn from them. Athletes know their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Athletes also know how their abilities compare to their competitors.
Entrepreneurs perform a competitive analysis of their industry or market. They focus on what their competitors’ weaknesses are. However, they usually neglect to study their competitors’ strengths as thoroughly. And rarely do start-ups look at themselves through the eyes of their competitors. If they were sitting in a competitive analysis meeting held in their competitors’ offices, what would the competitors be saying about their start-up?
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5. Performance Reviews
One comment I hear from athletes is how American corporations manage to compete with their performance review systems is mystifying. In athletics, the athlete gets daily feedback from their coaches on how they are doing and what they need to improve. This allows the athlete to improve faster. With corporations, employees are given annual or semi-annual performance reviews. How far would our athletes go if their coaches only told them how they were doing every six or twelve months? Not far, I bet.
6. Finding the Right Goal
There have been many athletes that started in one sport, only to abandon it and reach great success in another. Most athletes are physically adept; they can play or do most sports well. Succeeding is more than just ‘doing well.’ It’s through the act of competing and allowing themselves to be compared to others – both good and bad – that stops them from blindly pursuing a goal without it necessarily being the right goal.
Here’s a way this gets translated into entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur starts a company with a product concept. The first misstep is when the entrepreneur squirrels the team away, develops the product in isolation and launches the product, only to find out that 7 billion people in the world don’t care at all. The start-up waited too long before ‘competing’ for the customers’ attention and budget.
The second problem is when the start-up pursues the product concept and business model to the bitter end, never-changing what they are doing. They are doing something well, but not well enough to thrive and succeed. Studies show successful start-ups change course 1 to 2 times before finding the right product and business model. In this case, the entrepreneur doggedly pursues the original goal, assuming the goal is correct.
Investors talk about their portfolio companies, and they will say, “It’s not going well. The team is not bold enough or aggressive enough to win in the marketplace.” You must know how to think, not just what to think. Competitive environments aren’t stable, they’re dynamic, and you have to be able to function and adapt in ambiguous situations, and do so by a deadline.
7. Sports Psychology
Athletes are trained to visual the goal. There are no obstacles between them and their objectives. They are trained to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and ask, “What am I going to accomplish today?” It’s not a matter of they “want” or “can” do something. It’s a much stronger thought psychologically; it’s they “will” do something.
As you can see, entrepreneurs can learn a lot from athletes, from building the right mindset and practices to getting feedback and setting the right goals.
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Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia is the author of, “Out of the Classroom Lessons in Success: How to Prosper Without Being at the Top of the Class.” The book serves up tips, insight, and wisdom to enable young adults and parents of kids to know what it will take to forge a successful career, no matter what their academic achievement.
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