08 October 2020
John Alex Leadership Coaching Life Coaching Business Mentoring Consulting

Sports Experience in Business

John Alex: Hi Piotr, it took you some time without me, why is that?
Piotr: Aaaah, I am really sorry John Alex, but needed to spend time on some other things.
John Alex: What was that?
Piotr: I consult and support a leader in starting her first own business!
John Alex: Wow, must be exciting!
Piotr: Indeed it is, furthermore I stay close to Roland Garros 2020, which needs some time as well, and it is a very pleasant time with an incredible performance from players… and especially from Iga Świątek. She just qualified to the Grand Final of this Tournament, being 19 years old. It’s amazing!
John Alex: I understand now, indeed a great performance and such a young player. So what do you bring today for our meeting?
Piotr: I actually wanted to talk about this sports experience, sports character in business, to jointly reflect about this. Does it help, does it not, pros and cons?
John Alex: Great… and why is this important to you?
Piotr: I guess because I have my sports experience of almost 14 years of hard work on a basketball court and have own reflections from it, from years in business perspective.
John Alex: That’s fine. But why would we make it public, who will take from it and what would you like to achieve?
Piotr: I think it would be important to all people. Those who are former sportsmen or at least had sports in their background, to try to think of their own reflections. But also to those who did not train any sport in their life, to see the characteristics that might be useful or understand “The Why” of those who always lived to win…
John Alex: Sounds interesting! So what’s most important in your view?
Piotr: When you google “sport experience in business” you get a series of articles from different individuals or newspapers on it. Very valuable read and inspiring.
John Alex: What it says?
Piotr: In essence that sports characteristics of people in business help them achieving goals. It is due to an immense determination, can-do attitude, the growth-mindset focused on learning, accepting views and criticism, overcoming challenges by constant growing & learning and also by ability to teamwork.
John Alex: Where to you think it comes from?
Piotr: Well, I give you my example. Of a basketball player who dreamed about NBA as teenager and never got higher than 3rd Division League and University Team. But top 5 at least in all teams😊
I strongly believe, that it is not the success measured by number of medals or cash on your account that creates your character or makes you a winner. I believe it is a process of striving that builds you as a person and makes you a winner.
John Alex: Nicely said, tell me more.
Piotr: Training a sport, in a way you do it 1-2 times a day, 5 days a week + a game on day 6 + sport camps during winter, sport camps during summer where you practice days and nighs, run on a frozen beach to almost puke from being exhausted… all that does not differ much if you are an amateur or a professional team or individual training. Most importantly, it is how you approach doing it, no matter if you finally succeed in making to division 2,1, Major League or NBA.
Rather it is how you approach your failures, it is how you respond to feedback, how you agree for your coach to raise the bar and accept it. It is how you react to criticism or development feedback as we would hear in the business. And finally it is how you lose a race or a game and want to improve for next one,  how you always see the light in the tunnel. There is no limits and no one can stop you from achieving what you want. Because you train (=learn) hard. And if not today, it will be tomorrow. Because tomorrow after next practice you are going to be better. You believe in it.
If I am 20 points behind, ok – I need to take it to +22 and get into the lead. If I am behind 4 runners, ok I need to get myself together and no matter what, get closer to them, overtake them finally.

This essential determination is what makes you a winner.
Or if you are a runner and even if you complete your race as last and there is no one else left to overtake anymore, the determination of winning is when there is 100m left to the finish line and you accelerate to your maximum getting breathless through the line at your max speed. This is what makes you a winner.
John Alex: This is very inspiring Piotr, thank you!
Piotr: Thanks John Alex. This is what sports people are exposed to every day, every training, every race and every game. It shapes their character for ever and this is what sportsmen become. This is the essence of sport. And this is what they then bring to the business totally naturally.
John Alex: Ok, so what it means for business?
Piotr: Well, as per above, such a shaped person in business is then pretty determined to achieve goals, whatever the goals are and whatever you do. This is about staying optimistic and positive to challenges. “Naaah, that’s just one step back, now we are turning this around and making 2 steps forward!”. And team-work. In sports there is always a team around you, regardless if it is a team sport or individual sport. Individual sport is also a team-sport, it is never a lonely journey. So having that experience you do not have to be trained in business on what is the meaning of a team or how teamwork is important, you do this naturally.
John Alex: I think it is a great reflection Piotr. Are there any downsides, negatives of a sports character in business?
Piotr: I think there are, as with most of the things in life.
Firstly, the desire to win at all costs – for those who did not do sports might look overambitious or might be seen as officious or arrogant (but it's just self confidence). Maybe presenting it this way will make some space for understanding both ways?
John Alex: Definitely… What else?
Piotr: That overachieving desire of winning might have it’s cost. Imagine you are a leader, who really wants the team to win and knows what the team needs to win and takes them there… on a journey.

I would be better showing you that through a persona of Michael Jordan. I have an idea, let’s have a read of transcript from “The Last Dance” movie, Season 1 Episode 7, on the GOAT (*the Greatest Of All Time):

The Last Dance, Episode 7 (about Michael Jordan), quotes:

“[…] everybody was always on alert around Michael after a bad game like that.
He would say, "You m…s didn't do a thing today. Come ready tomorrow to practice."

His theory was, "If you can't handle pressure from me, uh, you're not gonna be able to handle pressure of the NBA playoffs."
And so he talked trash in practice. He went at guys. He challenged guys. […]”

[Jordan on himself]
“My mentality was to go out and win at any cost.
If you don't want to live that regimented mentality, then you don't need to be alongside of me, because I'mma ridicule you until you get on the same level with me.
If you don't get on the same level, then it's gonna be hell for you.
People were afraid of him.
We were his teammates and we were afraid. There was just fear.
Catch the ball when I throw it to you. I just threw it to you.
The fear factor of MJ was so, so thick.
Yeah, let's not get it wrong. He was an asshole. He was a jerk. He crossed the line numerous times.
But as time goes on and you think back about what he was actually trying to accomplish, you're like,
"Yeah, he was a hell of a teammate."

He was pushing us all to be better. Because he wanted to win.
And guess what?
It worked.

John Alex: Wow, this is pretty strong. What it tells you?
Piotr: Well, that even idols and stars are human. And none is ideal. Above, I see a story of a leader of a team who wanted to win and took his team to the win journey (6 NBA titles, NBA record), regardless if they were ready or not. He wanted to make them ready. Because he liked them and wanted them to achieve with him. And he did and they did. From a retrospective, all those teammates are now grateful, but on the moment they felt fear, discomfort, they frozen or flight, to let him lead. "Let it be his way".
John Alex: What it tells us?
Piotr: This was the 90’s, even management and leadership was different to leadership of XXI century, but even with this age-gap remark it has not been an ideal method. But it worked.

It reminds me my primary school maths teacher. She was very harsh, when somebody forgot something, she put the guy in front of class, asked to reach your palm to the front and then she hit hard with a thick wooden bar. Your hand was getting red and we had to cool it down holding the metal part of our desks. And she was very demanding.

I was good at maths, but I developed thanks to her. And I heard later on, especially from those less mathematically talented, that she was the most respected teacher of all. Because she taught them something and demanded them to improve, never asking questions if they liked it or not.

I guess this is who Michael Jordan was to the team. So in the moment of acting, he was not liked by his companions. Fear, humiliation, orders, my way or no way… Sometimes winning at all costs might mean on “someone else’s cost”, this is the dark side clearly visible.
John Alex: So what lesson this gives you?
Piotr: In today’s world, 2020, Michael Jordan as a leader in business wanting to achieve all that would "contract" all he was doing with the team, before he started. He would explained how hard the journey is going to be, how is he going to behave and why; and ask for their acceptance, so there is no room for fear. Worst case scenario, someone would not like it and quit. But this would be fair and I suspect equally a winning strategy.

John Alex: So how is this all important to us?
Piotr: I think learning the determination, self-motivation to become better and better, staying positive on challenges, growth-mindset, dreaming big and teamwork is something we should all learn from sports people to succeed in our life, in what we do for our families and in what we do professionally. Observing sportsmen winning and failing is a great lesson on determination.

John Alex: Who do you admire now?

Piotr: Let us see Iga Świątek now. A lady of 19 years of age. Final of a most respected tournament of their profession. Went through all the stages like a pro. Tennis experts mention she plays like she had 10+ years of experience. I saw an interview with her, from early 2020. She mentioned her top qualities: determination, stubborness and being dominant. Down side of her, by her self reflection, that she dominates others and that she puts her opinion over others which she needs to control. And finally, something we did not mention before: that she believes her advantage to others is that she loves to work on her mental part with sports psychologists (like business coaches:)). That gives her additional strength and helps turning her downsides into advantages. Sounds great, very mature! And incredible for a 19-year-old... simply amazing. Fingers crossed for Iga.
John Alex: Thanks Piotr for reflecting all that! And I also keep fingers crossed for Iga! How do you say that: #JazdaIga! Correct?
Piotr: #JazdIga, that's it! Thanks John Alex, great talking to you as always!


Are former sportsmen better in business?

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