Growing up my life was dominated by sports. I played soccer at a high level (the club team that I captained was a perennial contender for regional and national titles) and if I wasn’t training by myself, at team practice four times a week, or traveling around the Northeast (I’m from Jersey, sorry) and across the country for tournaments then I was playing any number of neighborhood sports with my brother and friends. As an athletic kid who loved competing I far preferred the field or court to the classroom.
Over the last few years as I’ve transitioned from most of my time being spent in school to now most of my time being spent trying to create value for employers, customers, and myself I’ve started to discover that maybe it wasn’t the worst thing after all that I prioritized athletics over school.
It turns out that a lot of skills developed through sports translate over to the worlds of business and entrepreneurship. In both sports and business, you have to navigate your inner and outer lives in order to achieve goals you and your team have set. Here are a couple lessons I’ve kept with me that I’ve learned from sports. Without them and others, I would probably be crawled up in a corner somewhere.
Working With Different Personalities
I was fortunate enough to be trusted with leadership roles on the teams I played with by my coaches and teammates. While part of the responsibilities of being captain of a team were ceremonial, such as wearing an armband or doing the coin toss, there were high expectations set. Apart from performing well as an individual player I would be tasked with making sure our team was focused and ready to play at a high-level before the games, and be able to make adjustments to our strategy during games.
The most important skill I had to develop in order to be an effective leader was how to manage personal relationships with my teammates. I had to figure out when Mark needed a kick in the ass to get him fired up or that Chris responds poorly to the in-your-face mentality and needed to be explained what adjustments he needs to make in a more rational tone. Basically, I learned that when working with others you oftentimes have to adjust your behavior based on their preferences. This is not to be disingenuous and manipulate them, but simply recognizing that people are different and respond to particular behaviors as such.
One quick note on the topic of leadership, I highly value gaining leadership experience at a young age through sports because true leadership development opportunities are extremely limited for young people. Their lives are hardly ever in their own control let alone are they ever given opportunities to collaborate with others and 99% of group projects in school or office positions in students clubs just aren’t going to make the grade.
Correct Response to Failure
If you play any type of sport long enough you’re going to tally up the failures; big game losses, subpar individual performances, etc. The higher the competition level you play doesn’t necessarily mean you’re failing less, it just means the stakes are higher, you more invested in the outcome, and the opponents are stronger.
I remember when I was 12 or 13 and my team lost a state tournament quarterfinal match to our biggest rival. I took it particularly hard and ended up sulking and losing most of my appetite for two weeks. My parents openly discussed taking me to counseling before I finally snapped out of it. Probably not the best response of a teenager to losing a game, but that’s the point; everyone has to learn how to respond to failure and the sooner the better.
In sports, failure is pretty constant because perfection is typically the goal and it’s unattainable. Athletes learn to not view failure as the ultimate disappointment. They learn that failure is part of the process and treat it as feedback to make adjustments to. If you’re focused on achieving professional success you are certain to experience some failures along the way, knowing how to deal with them is vital.