Despite the surface-level differences, athletes and entrepreneurs have more in common than we realize. Value for hard work, perseverance, and being a team player are some of the most basic and fundamental values of entrepreneurship and sports.
Earlier this year, American twitter couldn’t get enough of 21-year-old gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s routine set to Michael Jackson’s music. The viral video caused quite a stir, and rightly so because Ohashi’s skills as a gymnast are stratospheric. That’s not all. She managed to finish her routine after coming back from two torn shoulders and a fractured back.
So what are the traits that allow someone to excel on the pitch and in the boardroom?
Athletes and sportsmen face pressure and competition on a daily basis. They keep improving their performance in training and on the field. It is an important skill set to have today with new competitors entering your domain and the sector facing constant disruptions. A great rival shouldn’t cause fear; they should instead become an inspiration to enhance your game.
Sportspeople always look at pushing their limits and build their experience. They always want to perform better than before. They are proactive about looking for tools that will help them excel. They set goals, put in the hours, try to consistently improve their personal best scores and work fiercely to grab that gold medal.
Venus Williams is best known for her dominance on the tennis court. She has won seven Grand Slam singles titles and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. But she’s also an entrepreneur. Williams is the CEO of interior design company VStarr Interiors and of the athletic wear brand EleVen.
“Sport is so much like business. It’s all about strategy. And it’s all about learning from losing. It’s all about setting goals,” she said in an interview. She said that the skills she developed in tennis were the same that made her successful in business.
Sportsmen often find themselves in different situations and they tackle unique scenarios that demand them to think on their feet. Their quick thinking and problem-solving training make sure they triumph every curveball life throws at them. Entrepreneurs have to be in constant firefighting mode.
Failure defines the strength of character. For sportspeople, wins and losses are temporary. They prepare themselves knowing that they will face failure, adversity and injuries that can derail their career. They have to face many roadblocks just like entrepreneurs. They too have to raise money for sponsorship. They often face defeat and take it on the chin.
Sportspeople are humble and modest in the face of adversity. They learn a lot because they deal with a lot.
In business, every supplier meeting, investor presentation or job interview is a valuable experience. You may not get the right deal, investment or employee, but you can learn from it and do better next time.
Real entrepreneurs hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and weaknesses.
Mental toughness is the ability to psychologically endure pressure, while still performing at peak efficiency. It is the most important quality both a sportsperson and an entrepreneur must have. Only the mentally tough survive the journey and in sports, you have to do it every single day. Grit and determination see them through grueling competitions and training. They are always testing their mental and physical limits. Their mental toughness allows them to persevere in the face of rejection, humiliation, regulatory issues and more.
Sportsmen dedicate their life to a sport they’re passionate about. The same is required for business. You have to replicate that passion and bring it to your work every day. You have to be driven when you have made that call. Talent is not enough to put you on the map, only a strong work ethic and working on your craft every day with laser-sharp focus can do that. There are no two ways about what discipline can help you achieve in life.
Good entrepreneurs don't hesitate in disrupting historical direction and etiquette in favor of shaking things up.
In any team sport, coaches and trainers find out the strengths and weakness of every player and assign them tasks and their role in a system. When all the cogs in a machine do their best, the greater good for the whole industry is achieved. Nothing teaches teamwork more than sports. You cannot build an empire by yourself. The teammates and colleagues you choose will dictate how your business crosses the finish line.
There is evidence to back it up. Study after study shows the correlation between team cohesion and success.
Belgium surprised many FIFA World Cup 2018 fans by making it to the semifinals and eventually winning the third-place match. Team manager Roberto Martinez attributed Belgium’s success to “The notion of being a team. Individual skills and talent are important, but in these tournaments, it’s absolutely necessary to play as a team.”
Authors and experts like Dino Ruta and Paolo Guenzi who have studied sports and business say that sports leadership is often used as a powerful analogy for analyzing and interpreting business leaders’ behaviours, such as teamwork, motivation and people management. Professional sports coaches are often viewed as role models for business managers. Coaches and managers have important things in common. Both roles have a more pressing need for sharing of leadership issues than ever before, in light of the strategic and organizational complexity with which sports teams and businesses find themselves contending.
While winning sports championships and receiving business awards fall on the path to greatness, extraordinary athletes and entrepreneurs realize the mark they want to leave on the world is bigger than that. They focus on creating a legacy, something that will survive much longer than them.