What sport can teach us about building a successful business

Highly successful athletes and successful sporting teams have many traits that can be applied to winning in business.


A successful athlete generally comes from a mix of natural talent or hard-working acquired talent. Talent on its own, though, is typically not enough to make a true champion. We’ve all seen many examples of talented athletes with unfulfilled potential who have exited the park far too early due to bad attitude or behaviour. My lecturer at university, legendary AFL Carlton coach David Parkin, said something that stuck (unlike many other lecturers!), “A champion requires a lot of talent PLUS a great attitude.”


For those who lack superior natural talent, the good news is that hard work and a great attitude pays off. Doing extra fitness before or after training, taking on more coaching lessons, striving to improve and be better will help push you to gain the most out of your ability. The ‘work horse’ is always a highly valued member of any team and wanted by most coaches. These athletes typically have a great attitude.


Track work translates to bottom line success


Great players work hard at their game constantly, they are never complacent or satisfied; they listen and always strive to improve. They are mentally tough and remain positive through tough times with a great outlook, positive attitude and they back themselves. They train as if they are number 2.


How often have we seen a team of stars lose to a well-oiled team? The power of cohesion can achieve great things. Just like a business partnership or a JV, one plus one can equal a whole lot more than two, which is why I am a huge fan of partnerships. A cohesive team works well when a number of things gel. The team respects their leader and a great coach gets the most out of their athletes, pushing everyone in the same direction with the same vision. Everyone works together and clearly understands their role and contribution to the team. The leader puts the right people in the right positions. Players take direction without question from their leader who they trust and the players are selfless and put team before individual performance. I sound like I’m giving a three-quarter time speech now, but these factors all contribute to the synergies that can be achieved through the power of team.


Team leaders provide a guiding example


Are you a respected leader in your business? Does your team follow you? Do they have the work ethic and the mental capacity to work hard, strive to improve and put team first? Is the team rewarded if the team does well?


I’d like to consider myself as always having been a big team man in sport and in business. I’d do anything for my team even at the expense of myself.


If you’re a one-man band in a small business – you’re the man. You’re the Usain Bolt – striving to be the best. You only answer to yourself and are 100% accountable to only you. If you slack off, your performance suffers. If you play hard and train hard, you will succeed. If you have a coach pushing you on the sidelines, you’ll keep growing and improving. If you become complacent or ‘know it all’, you won’t stay at the top for too long. The journey can be lonely, but some athletes and entrepreneurs are better suited to this style of play.


If you’re a leader of a team as an entrepreneur – you have a following. You must gain respect and trust and get people to follow you on your journey. Your team must buy into your vision and be heading in the same direction with clarity over each other’s roles. Your team will respect each other’s differences, take constructive criticism on board and strive to work together and grow as a team. One loose cog and holes will appear. As a leader, you keep everyone on track and make tough decisions to benefit the team. When you win, the team celebrates each other’s success. You enjoy each other’s company and bond as a family unit with care and consideration for others.


To build a high performing team, it all starts with the leader. The leader builds the team and while they may inherit some top performers, duds and maybe some bad eggs, it’s up to the leader to turn it around. While in team sport, the coach most often gets the sack (blame the coach), in a business it’s often the employees that get the sack unless the leader reports to a board. Many small businesses fail because of a lack of leadership. If you grow yourself as a leader you’ll be primed to build many successful companies over decades and attract great staff and investors who will want to follow your journey.


Sharing values, sharing success


I guarantee that if you look at the top teams they share the same traits, along with the bottom teams whom also share the same traits! Why do the same coaches keep achieving success over many years with different teams? Why do the same business leaders and entrepreneurs keep achieving success in various businesses?


My first mentor told me, day one, lesson one, that to build a successful company you need to become a great leader. They understand how to win in business and build successful teams. As the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” Now finish your oranges, and go get ‘em!


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