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10 things entrepreneurs can learn from sport

Regardless of whether you are just embarking on your journey of entrepreneurship or you consider yourself a seasoned business person, there are always things that can be learnt.

How, if there is no scheduled training sessions or formal CPD opportunities, can a business owner learn new skills or develop themselves?

Learning is, of course, not just about tangible progression and self-development.

Learning can, and should, be so much more.

There are many ways in which we learn but do not necessarily make the connections that we have actually learnt something from a particular action.

There is one way in which we can learn and develop that will motivate and encourage us and, in turn, spill over into all aspects of what we do.

For this reason, I strongly recommend that all entrepreneurs participate in sport regularly with the intention of improving in performance.

It might be that you take up golf for the first time and have to learn how to hold a golf club correctly, the ideal way to tee off and the best technique to get yourself out of a bunker.

There might be an opportunity to dive back into a swimming pool, recalling the competitive swimming you did as a child, in which the technical skills of every stroke and turn, together with the correct breathing and body positioning will soon come back to you.

Whether or not it is a new sport that is to be learnt from scratch or a revisited pastime that you were good at, there are many things that entrepreneurs can learn from sport.

Here are just 10 of them...

1. Patience

“Good things come to those that wait...”

First comes patience.

When learning anything new, and often present in the personalities of entrepreneurs, you might be tempted to run before you can walk.

Taking your time to get something right first rather than rushing it and doing it incorrectly as well as picking up bad habits will reap many benefits in the long run.

Learning how to touch type is a really good example. I was taught that it did not matter how slowly I typed at first, as long as I never looked at my fingers.

Once I memorised the keys on a typewriter (and in those days, it was such a faff having to get the correction tape out for every mistake so that was motivation in itself to ensure accuracy was top of the agenda). If I remember correctly, three errors were counted as a fail and that included the two spaces after a full stop, layout, spelling (of course) and overall presentation. I was reassured I could speed my fingers up when I knew that the accuracy was there.

Like sport, if you start something slowly, whether it is a serve in tennis, a tumble turn in swimming or cradling an empty lacrosse stick, the chances of improving on accuracy will be improved and so once that is achieved, you have already set yourself apart from the competitor that has not been so patient.

The same can be said for an entrepreneur...

Things will not happen overnight (including the promises that you will have a five-figure month if you do x, y or z).

“Patience is a virtue“ was not a proverbial phrase said without meaning.

There will be many opportunities in which an entrepreneur wants to have had now or yesterday, however, it is a longer game and that should be remembered.

2. Strong work ethic and discipline

By naturally having a strong work ethic,

discipline is ever present.

Entrepreneurs require the discipline in order to have what can be defined as a strong work ethic.

The person that can think in a practical way, maybe even if they set rules and regulations personally so that they make themselves accountable, they will be likely to achieve the goals set.

Whether or not you are an entrepreneur or a sportsperson, the discipline it takes for someone to get better at what they do, achieve more sales, reach their targets, surpass their personal best times or any goals set, it is evident that there has to be something in them to do that.

Getting out of bed every morning at 5:00am for a run or training, working after hours on your own business matters because clients take precedence, it is your discipline that enables you to set the parameters so that you can fulfil all that is required takes a strong work ethic and discipline, however, in reality it takes more than that.

3. Mental strength

A self-awareness and belief in oneself is paramount as both an entrepreneur and sportsperson.

Being presently aware of yourself at any given time is going to take you far in what you are doing.

To be able to provide yourself with candid self-critique and understand your misgivings in what has been done can be the catalyst to making positive change and improvement in whatever you are doing.

It is unlikely an athlete achieved their dreams of being a multiple gold medallist by not believing in themselves or not taking the feedback given by their coach to improve their technique to shave off the milliseconds required to take that top spot.

Similarly, the dark days in which they felt unmotivated because their performance was not improving as they had hoped were quashed not only by their strong work ethic and self discipline but through their mental strength in order to drive forward.

4. Hard work

Becoming good at anything is not automatic.

Crafting your skill takes hard work. It comes back to the patience and discipline and once that is in place, the training, improving, learning and developing can occur – through hard work.

Putting in the hard work is easier if you enjoy what you are putting your efforts into.

I find myself constantly repeating myself to my daughter that when it is time for her to choose a career, she should do it based on what she genuinely enjoys doing. The hard work that will be required during her career will come easier to her if she likes what she does.

No sportsperson is going to achieve the results they expect if they do not like what they do.

You often hear of competitive sportspeople announcing their retirement because their “heart is no longer in it”.

This is a sure sign that they have hoped to finish on a high (when they worked hard and enjoyed the results) before crashing and burning, and possibly being remembered for the last thing that they did.

5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Mental health matters or challenges do not have to be negative.

How to use your mental health condition to your advantage is the first and significant step to understanding what makes you tick and how you can get the best out of yourself.

There are many reports of top level athletes who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Sportspeople and entrepreneurs are similar in that they do well with routine. If you get up and follow the same habitual routine day in, day out, there is one less thing to remember so you have the capacity to take on additional learnings such as improving upon techniques and furthering your skills.

An entrepreneur may well have ‘flexibility’ to do things when they wish, however, without a routine, their business is more likely to fail in the medium to long term.

OCD might take the form of the compulsiveness of needing to do things, perhaps at a certain time or in a particular way, however, this might extend to very set and non-negotiable compulsions that are completed in order to believe that ‘things will go right’.

‘Lucky’ items or practices may seem irrational to those that do not understand OCD fully, however, the point that a certain set of behaviours that sportspeople follow might do an entrepreneur well to follow.

6. Precision

A sportsperson is unlikely to say “that will do” after anything they train or perform for. They only want to hone in on the skills they have to become better and better each and every time they do something (bettering their PB is always their ultimate goal).

To do that, being precise is key.

Taking us back to being patient, achieving accuracy beyond anything else first will allow for precision to take place with experience and time.

Precision can be easily identified by a sportsperson. They know if they slipped up (usually so minute an error that the rest of us wouldn’t even detect it) and so they can account for any lost time, if in a race, by doing so.

It has been reported that the legendary David Beckham, OBE, practised dead ball free kicks almost religiously to achieve the precision he became renowned for when scoring goals.

‘Bend it like Beckham’ was born and a large number of young footballers were inspired by the very notion that precisions was everything.

7. Investment in training time

Taking the time to learn and develop will lead to better performance.

There were many times I heard people ‘put off’ a training session because they had ‘too much on’.

The commitment given to training is reflective of the type of person you are.

Let’s go back to Mr Beckham…

His precision came from all of the above, including investing his time in what he was determined to get precise.

Top flight sportspeople do not get to where they get to without investing in themselves.

As an entrepreneur, it becomes more difficult to carve out time to learn and train.

However, in just the same way an entrepreneur in business wants anyone working with them to be proficient in what they are doing and would send them on a training course to become more confident in what they are doing and learn the skills required, the same should apply to the entrepreneur also.

Investing in yourself is something that should never be forgotten.

8. Imperfection / Setbacks

Imperfection is a tricky point to consider because it is well known that sportspeople constantly strive for perfection.

The truth is this.

Perfection is unattainable and it is common that the idea of perfectionism negatively affects a sportsperson’s performance that can lead to an inability to improve whilst training.

Vince Lombardi, an American football coach and executive in the National Football League (NFL), said:

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Sportspeople are also accustomed to setbacks.

Injury, lack of performance, other external and social factors can determine how they perform at any given time. It is largely their mental strength that gets them through these challenges.

As an entrepreneur, the advice given can be to dismiss perfection. By spending so much time on trying to achieve something that is not likely, the time wasted in doing so is damaging.

The mere fact that by the time ‘perfection’ is sought and perhaps almost achieved, the parameters for that standard has probably changed in any case as the world of entrepreneurship is as fast moving.

It is useful for entrepreneurs to learn that perfection can, and undoubtedly will, hold them back. Provided that whatever is being done is to a level of high quality, there is little point in spending much valued time mulling over something that is likely to be insignificant.

A lesson I learnt always comes to mind.

If the result of a decision that you are considering will have little effect on you (or others) after a short space of time (a day or week maybe), it should be given less consideration than a decision that you are making that may have resulting effects in a few months, a year or longer.

In other words, the longer the consequence of any decision you make should be given the due attention it deserves and those that will not matter could be regarded as less troublesome to get ‘perfect’.

Following Mr Lombardi’s lead might help. If you are a self-confessed perfectionist, by trying to aim for your ultimate best, you know you have done all that you can and will be able to achieve the excellence that you like to feel.

9. Resilience

Resilience is something that all of us have encountered at some point in our lives. Whilst strange times call for resilience, it is more than that for most.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as:

“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”.

People find themselves digging deep within themselves to find resilience, consciously or subconsciously, on a daily basis.

This requires a number of skills, in which are commonly found in sportspeople.

Self-awareness, mindfulness, purpose, positive relationships and self-care are five areas that are required in order that you can find the resilience within yourself. By following the habits you form and practising them well, you will find the resilience you need when setbacks and challenges present themselves.

Like a sportsperson that faces disappointment periodically, and at times regularly, an entrepreneur requires to be able to ‘bounce back’ regardless of how hard your difficulties have been. To be able to do this, it takes a particular mindset (that can be trained) in order to learn from the things that have not worked or have ‘knocked you’ and move on with confidence to learn and develop.

Sport is fast moving and there is bound to be much to be resilient about. If, as an entrepreneur, you need to develop these skills, it may be useful to read any biography of a sportsperson that you admire or are inspired by.

10. Self care

All sportspeople have rest days.

For both their mind and physical being, a sportsperson have their high intensity training days as well as their shorter and lighter sessions. Their rest days are taken seriously in order for their minds and bodies to recover, recharge and strengthen for their next period of training.

Just like sportspeople, as an entrepreneur, you should ensure that your rest days are kept safe. Boundaries should be put in place so that you have the time to reflect and enjoy that you inevitably are living for. It is often too easy to forget what we do and why we do it, and get caught up ‘just doing this’ or ‘having to finish that’.

Switching off as an entrepreneur is a challenge in itself and so having something scheduled to look forward to might be the only way that self-care can be practised.

What is important is the recognition that by adopting a ‘super-person’ approach that working around the clock maximises productivity is not only a myth but it is proven to be misjudged and ill-informed.

Whilst everyone is different, how a business owner can avoid burnout is an important business aspect to feel confident in as an entrepreneur.

It has been said that if you don’t care for yourself, it means you don’t care about your business.

Your business is you. You are your business.

There are many things we can learn from others through a number of different avenues.

The points that we can learn from sport listed above cascade down to the next to lead to what is required within the sporting world....

What I have found to be useful as a new business owner is to be able to compare many of the things I have to do or decide upon within my business with my previous competitive sporting days, or my daughter’s, who is developing all the skills required through her sport that will put her in good stead in the future.

My recommendation for any entrepreneur is to learn from sport and the high achievers within it that accomplish what they set out to do.


If you want to discuss how sport can help you in what you are doing in your career, get in touch with me.




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