Sports and Business: Why Do They Feel So Similar?
It’s a great time of year for sporting enthusiasts with many outdoor pursuits happening. Before long, the weather will send many of us indoors to hibernate until spring’s sunny warmth beckons. I’ve been thinking about how team sports and businesses are similar lately and thought about putting some of those thoughts out there to stimulate some conversations. This isn’t intended to be a definitive list, just some thought provoking ideas to get you thinking like a coach about how you can provide better team leadership. Please, feel free to jump in here and add your thoughts!
- Teamwork and Collaboration Count – Whether you’re playing football American Style or what we Yanks call Soccer (and the rest of you call football), you need someone to get open, and someone else needs to see the play developing and be able to pass the ball to the open player. That way, they can take advantage of an opening to score. Sports rewards strong teamwork and collaboration. Great cohesive teams find creative ways to score and defeat their opponents by sticking to a strategy and tactics that lead to victory. Those teams are clearly focused on an objective (get open, and I’ll pass the ball to you when you are clear!) and there are rewards for executing the plan with precision. The same is certainly true in business, and good teams who can execute on their plan earn rewards.
- Great Coaching & Talent Help – Having talented people in the right places makes a powerful difference. It’s always about people in both sports and business. When you have a great coach, your team appears to have a big advantage after the halftime adjustments in strategy are made. If you need proof, I will offer you football coaches, Bill Belichick or Nick Saban. Likewise, when your team is blessed by a great point guard or a great systems architect who can set up other players to score, your advantage is palpable. There is no substitute for great coaching and talent in sport, and in business, the advantage is just as significant as it is in team sports. A company with great coaches developing their emerging leaders ensures that the team will maintain their competitive advantage for years to come.
- Preparation Leads To Perfect – Business professionals who realize that challenges and adversity are going to arrive at some point, are better prepared than those who crumble at the first sign of adversity. In sports, you don’t get onto the playing field unless you’ve practiced your plays and your defense all week. With practices designed to simulate the speed of the game, you get a chance to make mistakes, and learn from them during the practice week, so that when the game arrives this weekend, you are experienced and expecting to be able to make decisions at game speed. In business, the teams that realize that perfect practice makes for perfect performance usually put a significant distance between themselves and the companies who just show up and hope for the best. Speakers who practice their presentation several times before delivering it have figured out how to make the speech better, and the audience never sees the preparation, they just see the excellent results.
- Clear Expectations – Sports teams all understand that there are five people on a basketball team and each has a well-defined role. A center is focused on different priorities than a shooting guard or a point guard, and that is not an accident. Sports coaches provide their teams with clear instructions about roles, assignments, and expectations. John Wooden was probably the best college basketball coach of all time, and he left no detail to chance. He made certain that each player had been chosen, not based merely on his or her talent, but on his or her ability to bring out the best in others. He made sure that each player was clear about their role and their responsibilities. Wooden went as far as to write down each player’s practice habits and daily behaviors so that there would be no confusion about what was necessary to help the team to succeed. His results speak for themselves, don’t they? He is the only coach in NCAA history to deliver ten championships. By setting clear expectations for your team, you ensure that they have the best chance to deliver the results that you expect.
- Discipline is Rewarded, Chaos is Punished – I’ve noticed that some of the teams at the bottom of the standings in football are often penalized for self-induced mistakes. The best teams are often the least penalized because they have practiced and perfected their ability to begin their play on the correct snap count, they’ve figured out how to block without holding, and they’ve learned to cover receivers without committing pass interference. Teams that maintain their control over their emotions don’t lose players to unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and deal effectively with the fog of war and the expected ambivalence and chaos of a football game. The teams that lose control are punished with 5, 10 & 15-yard penalties and mounting defeats. Well-coached teams deliver results that match expectations, and teams that unravel at the first sign of adversity never accomplish anything of significance. There are parallels in the world of business. Great teams must stay within themselves and stay disciplined if they are to run like a well-oiled machine and must avoid emotional meltdowns that lead to chaos.
- Follow, Change, & Execute a Plan – When a sports team begins to approach the level of a dynasty, and they win and lead their league year after year, it is usually because they have a system in place. They practice systematically, and the coaches help the players to develop autonomy to make decisions on the field in creative ways that align with the game plan. The best teams have a game plan at the beginning of the game, but as events happen during the game (player injuries, change in weather, challenges in the way the game unfolds), the best teams change their game plan on the fly during the game. Sometimes this is done during the game on the sidelines, and sometimes in the locker room between halves. It appears obvious to me that a great coaching staff will have prepared their teams for a robust battle, and will have coached them to expect challenge and adversity during the game and expect changes in the plan during the game. Having set the expectations that adversity is a part of the game, their team deals with it better than other teams, and the players respond with an ability to follow, change and execute a fluid plan during the game. Business leaders need to think along the same lines. Your team needs to be able to adjust on the fly to deliver the greatest chance of achieving victory.
Yes, the last days of autumn are upon us here in Minnesota, and they are going to be days of brilliant sunshine and color filled splendor. The cross-country runners, football players, and soccer players are enjoying the Indian Summer and showing their competitive best as the seasons conclude. Great coaching and great preparation correlate to great results in sports, and the same great leadership techniques that winning coaches use to build a dynasty on the sporting fields translate well into the context of business. Sport and business feel so very similar because they ARE very similar. Great teamwork and the ability to function at a high level are great strategies in sport, and they are just as great in business. Take the lessons learned by great sports coaches and implement them in your business pursuits and lay the groundwork for building your own business dynasty.
Michael is a sports fanatic and award-winning Certified Professional Business Coach in Minnesota, land of the Vikings and Golden Gophers. Michael works closely with growing companies in the Technology sector to help them develop cohesive leadership teams, to develop winning strategies, and to develop their next generation of leaders. All of these pursuits lead to sustainable success for the companies that engage in these efforts. If you’d like more information about having Michael work with YOUR organization to facilitate your Strategic Planning for 2017, or to begin a high performance/high potential associate development program, send an email inquiry to email@example.com and Michael and his team will get you started.