“I run on the road long before I dance under the lights.” – Muhammad Ali, 3-Time World Heavyweight Champion
Athletics teach us lessons that we learn nowhere else. Whether it is recreational leagues, travel, club, high school, collegiate, or even for the elite professionals, we find this to be universally true. While my competitive baseball and basketball career ended at my high school graduation, the competitive fire in me burns bright. While the occasional marathon or 5k beckons, the athletic investments now focus on our children’s endeavors.
Watching two boys play high school baseball, golf, and football, and seeing a daughter engrossed in competitive high school and club softball, I am reminded of some key lessons:
In competitive sports and business, being excellent at specific skills brings value. Being well-rounded without a specific position skill can lead to being overlooked. While every baseball or softball player needs to hit, highly-skilled positions like pitcher and catcher require even greater focus. As the father of catchers, I see how much the additional training and repetitions means to the development of their skillsets. The competitive business landscape requires that we distinguish ourselves, and being average in many areas cannot make up for being excellent in specific skills.
Despite requiring specific skills, certain traits transfer across sports and positions. Being athletic, strong, quick, and flexible translates well into several different sports and competitions. Business is no different, as being conversant and aware of general trends is imperative to understanding the variety of industries and backgrounds.
Grinding through the Off-Season
Similar to sports, business tends to run in seasons. Each business and industry is different, but all have their peak and off-peak times. When schedules relax a bit, that is the time to put in extra work getting better. We get better by practicing well, and what better time to slow down and focus than when competition subsides? Taking a course to learn a new skill, or reviewing our work to look for areas to improve, demonstrate a willingness to relentlessly improve. In the 24/7/365 marketplace, there is little time to “Netflix and chill.”
Despite being busy in-season, fine-tuning is key – extra swings in the batting cage, repetitions on the golf range, or just another 50 free throws after practice. In the same way, mid-season course corrections and adjustments may make the difference between an average year and record returns.
Every team runs on cash. Behind every successful team on the field or court, there is a concerted effort to make sure the cash supports the organization. In my kids’ sports, it seems that fundraising is a year-round effort. No matter what your role on the team, the contribution to paying your dues is critical. Similarly, businesses that don’t expand do worse than shrink – they die. Each team member must take business development seriously, as companies that are not ultimately sales organizations will perish.
Keep it Social….and FUN
So much of team success emerges from something often overlooked….great teams like each other. Teammates want to spend time together, have fun, and let down their guard. My sons’ baseball teams had fun rituals and inside jokes, both before and during games. My daughter’s softball team usually starts a day of games with sing-alongs to their favorite playlist, serenading the parents and opposing team with singing that borders on screaming (Okay, maybe it truly is screaming). Similarly, great businesses are made up of teams that know how to have fun together. That fun often comes in the middle of serious work, but the camaraderie built through rituals and humor makes the journey worth the cost. Pressure that only makes stress unbearable is not sustainable but having the right amount of challenge while still enjoying the process is what makes teams successful.
Most competitive athletic careers end with high school or college graduation. However, the lessons learned through years of grinding practice and pressure-packed games can serve us well in our longer-term professional careers.
“Winning takes talent. To repeat takes character.”
– John Wooden, Winner of 10 NCAA National Championships