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Sport vs Business (3) – 5 Learnings for entrepreneurs

Are you eager to start your own business? Have you already decided and you’ve taken your first steps towards fulfiling your dream of independence, money and control of your life? I wish you good luck! At the same time, we must both agree that the road ahead is not an easy one. I will try to draft a bit of guidance by replicating experiences sport performers faced in their early stages.

It takes time to succeed.

It goes without saying that reaching some goals may take time. The higher the goal, the longer the required time to get there (in most instances). I want to play tennis like Federer, dribble like Messi or score like Michael Jordan? Aiming high is good. Having an iconic figure as the Polar Star is also motivating. However, be prepared to drop off from your success train some stations before reaching this dream destination. Only a few – literally, a few, maybe one, two persons, or even no-one – will get to that level of mastership in your generation. But you don’t have to be Messi. Being a player in the first league would be great, and chances increase considerably. Even playing in the second league is a personal success. You should not be dissapointed by such a performance. Still, getting there takes a lot of time. Determination is key. You have to wake up and train, day by day, in the shadow, before any success is in sight. You have to trust in yourself and seek improvement, every step of the way. Many people say that mastery is reached after at least 10,000 hours of practice. Keep this in mind as a reference. Success will not come tomorrow. Neither next month. Most probably, not even next year…Keep working hard, analyze, improve, get advices, work and work. Eventually, signs of success will start to twinkle.

Manage success & failure.

Along this difficult journey, you wll come across failure, firsthand, then, hopefully, small victories. Great champs are those who manage both. Failing is definetely demotivating. This is the first, natural reaction. You feel sorry, maybe even dissapointed. The key is what you do next. Giving up, getting frustrated, labeling you as a loser, is the true fail. The right approach is to learn from mistakes, to use this as propellers to get better, to motivate you for the next challenge. There is a famous qoute by Jordan about this (yes, I admit I admire MJ for what he did in the area of sports and I truly recommend watching The Last Dance series on Netflix, a movie beyond sports per se, a real lesson about leadership and human performance). He allegedly said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I’d say this wraps up the whole idea…

Another major milestone is dealing with success. This might sound a bit couterintuitive, but success is as much an enemy as failure. Success could make us feel invincible, could soar our self-perception way too high. Then, when we fall from there (as we will certainly do, we could hardly find invincible athletes), we could break into pieces, so small that we might not be able to put ourselves together. There are even some traumatic forms encountered in top performance sports (see post-Olympic depression, for instance), with serious implications (I mean, health related, not only altered ambitions).

Are these recent concerns? Not quite. Let’s remember those great words Kipling mastered in his famous poem, If, around 1895:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;

Amazing, isn’t it? And, by the way, these lyrics are written on the wall of the players’ entrance to the Center Court at Wimbledon…

You need specific skills

Work plays a great role. By some authors, talent is highly questionable, it’s all about work, work, work. However, even the work-only evangelists admit that, you know, you need a bit of compatibility with the sport you practice (aka, the field of business you want to venture into). It is hard to play basketball, at least at a relatively high level, when you are short. Examples could continue, but you got the point. Just to make sure we get the message right: don’t give up after the first person tells you that you are not fit for this or that. There are so many cases when these so called visionary experts got it all wrong. By these “foreseers”, Arnord had no chances of becoming a real bodybuilder and Messi was too fragile to play football. Or, in Romanian-style, Toma Coconea, a living legend of the tough Red Bull X-Alps competition (2nd place in 2007 and 2011), not only that he had to future in sports, but, at the age of 23, some “competent” doctors decided to amputate one of his legs. He ran from the hospital and, after years of work, became an international performer, nick-named Duracell…

In conclusion, stay objective. Work hard to get where you want, trust yourself and manage every step of the way. However, if you are naturally a 60kg guy, it might be better not to aim winning an international belt in heavyweight boxing…

Enjoy it

We kept talking about work, Of course, this means sweat. This means getting up in the morning when you feel like sleeping more. It means putting effort in your training, in your daily practice, when you don’t feel good, when you feel down or have lower motivation. But sport people don’t practice all these years in a gloomy mood, they are not opressed by some hidden dictator. Most of the times, they say they enjoy it. They enjoy the journey. You know what many top sport performers do when they are in holidays, when they come back to their coutries if they are remotely located? Well, you’ve probably guessed. They keep on training. Not as hard as in full season, but they keep the engine working.

If you start a business just for the money or a desired social status and you don’t like it, I strongly recommend to reconsider your path. Joy, fun, pleasure, should be part of this equation, should be a pillar in your life.

Build winning teams

Have you watched interviews of champions in sports, immediately after raising a much disputed cup over their head, or after biting a gold medal at an Olympic competition? Even in individual sports, most of the time, champs thank their teams (in team sports it’s crystal clear this is the norm). Why is that so? Because getting up the peak, any peak, is almost everytime the outcome of a prolific teamwork.

In 2019, Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2h barrier for a marathon, in an incredible event in Vienna (see Ineos 1:59 Challenge). It was a tear bursting performance, an amazing proof of human capacities witch transcedes sports. Like in many other contexts, sports teach us outstanding lessons about life. It was Eliud alone against the clock, against the “unfogiving minute”, to quote Kipling again. Or was it? In fact, Eliud reached this incredible milestone having around him 41 pacemakers, top international runners. Plus a much larger team helping him during the training stage.

In business, like in sports, winning implies working with great teams. Pay a great deal of time and attention to building a strong team, it is allegendly the most difficult task of all…