The high-points of any athletes’ career are their major victories. The sweetest of them are those to which the world has attached the greatest importance: the tournaments, staged in spectacular looking stadiums packed with thousands of fans whose roars add to the sense of anticipation and form the backdrop for history-defining sporting performances. Added to these are the millions who watch the spectacle on TV sets at homes across the world. These ingredients may greatly embellish the victory in the eyes of the spectator or commentator, but to the athlete, what really matters is the victory and the title that comes with it.
As is the case with the athlete, the entrepreneur may find that considerable recognition follows after achieving a major goal. But the thing that really satisfies an entrepreneur is the achievement. Popularity is important and could even help in making greater progress, but it originates from the accomplishment of the goal. This is just one way in which athletes’ lives resemble the entrepreneur’s. Just like the sportsman, the entrepreneur has to give much to gain what he aims to get.
Entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from athletes, especially those who represent the essence of the sports life. These four points are probably the most important of them:
- Mental resilience
The strength of the athlete isn’t lodged in his muscles alone. In fact, the drive to clear hurdles and cross the finish line comes from his mind. The greatest sportspeople are known to have exceptionally resilient minds, and this is demonstrated in their ability to rebound from poor starts or failures and make the most of difficult situations.
A memorable example of the display of mental strength comes from the 1998 FIFA Football World Cup hosted by France. Nigeria’s national football team, the Super Eagles, had to play against Spain, one of the tournament’s more fancied sides. It was supposed to be a mismatch, with the Spaniards expected to win comfortably. The Super Eagles struggled to assert themselves and fell behind twice. But they fought their way back, capping an incredible performance with a stunning 25-yard strike from Sunday Oliseh which won the match for the Eagles. That goal, which became one of the highlights of that tournament, was made more remarkable because it was an embodiment of the refusal by an underdog to be cowed by an apparently superior opposition. It took mental willpower to conjure a shot fierce enough to pry open the Spanish defense; it also took mental strength to come back from the dead, as the Eagles did that day.
The lesson from the match referred to here is that the entrepreneur need not be put off by the difficulty of the task, or the formidability of the competition. If he has the belief (and the right strategy) he has a good chance to win against the odds.
- Goal oriented strategy
It’s one thing to have goals; it’s quite another to have goals well laid out, along with strategies that are designed to make it easier to reach them. Entrepreneurial goals may range from delivering a product or service before a deadline to growing sales from ₦250,000 to ₦1,000,000 per month, on average. Whatever goals you set for yourself, you’ll need to put yourself and your team in good position to succeed.
Athletes split long-term goals into smaller chunks that they can tackle in the short term. This is because the process of becoming a world-class competitor or a championship winner is long and tedious, and it’s better done by taking gradual, sustained steps that build up to the big goal.
Another thing that entrepreneurs can learn from athletes is specific goal setting. It’s not enough to say that your goal is to “win a 100 meters sprint”. Giving it more detail, like “sharper attention to, and anticipation of the start signal; run with a raised chest; dip better at the finish line, etc”. The emphasis should be on getting the details right, making the plan more practical, and making progress measurable.
- The ability to learn
It’s hard to not stay bogged down in the depths of misery and loss of form that comes from defeat. But for athletes, the ability to learn from failures and keep pushing is something they must possess.
There’s a practice by sportspeople of going over a recording of their performances to pinpoint fault which led to the defeat. Entrepreneurs may not have tapes of their production and delivery processes (they could be days, weeks or even year long if they were produced!) but they do have records (or they should) which contain indicators that reveal what decisions (or indecision) led to their failures.
Athletes also receive expert guidance from coaches. An equivalent of the coach in entrepreneurship could be a mentor, whose advice comes from years of valuable experience. The information they give to budding entrepreneurs is important, and it’s why many business people seek them out.
“Nothing good comes easy”.
If you’re searching for a good example that demonstrates the truth of this saying, look no further than the medal-winning athlete. For every world title she claims, there are thousands of hours spent in training, pushing herself to the limits of endurance. While millions see the commanding performances she puts up on the track, she alone knows what it takes to make all of that possible: the shedding of blood, sweat, and tears; turf pounding; grueling runs; lonely workouts… She has to spend far less time with family and friends than she would love to. But there’s a reason why she does this, and she considers it worth the sacrifice.
Entrepreneurs won’t make any meaningful progress on the business growth path if they don’t give up possible distractions, sometimes valuable ones. This isn’t just a rule to be learned from athletes alone. It’s the way of existence nature’s demand from all who live and want to thrive. Effort entails more than the exertion of energy; it requires the delay of gratification.
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This article was first published on 6th October 2017