Six parallels between winning athletes and successful businesses

By Jake Martin

3 min read

Although the brilliant Olympic Games of 2012 might now be behind us, we at BackleyBlack continue to look for performance insights that relate back to business, and to use them to drive a new level of performance in all of our working lives.

From interviewing Team GB coaches and being former Olympic athletes ourselves, we know that there are many parallels between sport and everyday business life.

The major ones we have observed include:

  • Reliance
  • Desire
  • Partnership
  • Polishing
  • Pressure
  • Work ethic

Reliance

In sport we continued to see healthy, symbiotic relationships between coach and athlete, which encouraged honest feedback and an understanding of each other’s expectations. But what can we learn for business? Having an honest and open discussion with your partner about your strengths and areas for improvement would mirror what we saw with the sports coaches.

In sport the key is to take responsibility for utilising strengths and delivering on these as well as developing processes to help you improve in the areas that you need to – it’s exactly the same in business. 

Desire 

For many in sport that pot of gold is like chasing the end of the rainbow, and yet there is a passion and a drive that sits at the heart of every Olympian, due to their desire to reach it. Some reach their goal and quite often go again, some don’t but still continue to try. The observation here for business is that clarity and emotional strength from everyone are the keys to success, as well as caring about your end goal and having the physical and psychological strength to reach it

Unlike in the Olympics, in business, the goals can move or indeed be very vague. This makes it even more important for individuals to define what success looks like for them in their role and then go and deliver against this.

Partnership

During our interviews with a selection of the top sport coaches, we looked at the team environment and the different dynamics at work. It would seem that this is where sport and business are actually identical. If ambiguity of roles and responsibility exists within a business team it can have a profound effect on both the team process and its outputs. The deliverables can be compromised and the quality of working relationships begins to break down, creating a steady downward spiral of performance.

Take time at the beginning of a team’s development to define the outcomes you are looking to achieve and then agree roles and responsibilities in delivering against this. You must also agree a process of monitoring and feedback that allows for praise to be shared or redirection to be applied.

Polishing

We looked at different styles of coaching and learned how all coaches agree that it is the accumulation of marginal gains that makes the big difference.

The obligation is more often than not to tweak things for the better, rather than tear up the plan and start again. It was observed that these may be small things- but they can often make a big difference. Toni Minichello (coach to Olympic Heptathlon Champion, Jessica Ennis) pointed out that people can get ‘fixed’ to death, but this is not polishing. He instead offered us a great insight when he said, “If it’s ok, I’ll leave it alone”. This the sign of a great coach – and something that should be adopted by CEOs in the business world.

Pressure

The pressure of the Olympic Games is not like ‘real life’ pressures. However, what we have learned from seeing athletes perform under pressure gives us the knowledge that anything is possible. In the business world, if we use what some may see as negative pressure as a positive, we can push ourselves to the limit, and ultimately go above and beyond. We all have a remarkable potential and a little pressure can be used to our advantage. It’s how diamonds are made, right?

Work ethic

There is, however, one other aspect of performance that we at BackleyBlack believe needs further appreciation in the business world. It is that of the work ethic that sits at the heart of every champion – sport and business. The trait of working really hard in pursuit of a dream is, above all else, the one trait that will not only ensure success but will provide a never-ending renewable success and one that has no limit.

 

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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