Business and Sport, So Many Similarities…….

Many of us marvel at the achievements of some of the world’s greatest sportsmen and women. Those who rise head and shoulders above their rivals don’t do it overnight: talent is given, greatness is earned, usually by hours and hours of toil and sweat.

The world of business has many similarities to sport: preparation, competition, winning, losing, passion, hard work…sound familiar? There is no doubt that business leaders and entrepreneurs can draw much motivation from the world’s top sporting stars.

If you are looking for business inspiration, then how about this, from the basketball legend Michael Johnson: “…obstacles don’t have to stop you; if you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up; figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Or this, from the tennis great Billie Jean King: “…champions keep playing until they get it right.”

Both quotes are as relevant to running a successful business as they are to being a great champion in sport. And it is why business leaders, or anyone aspiring to be one, could do much worse to read the stories of the best sporting achievers, many of whom endured as many setbacks as plaudits on their way to the top.

Take the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, for instance. His first job as a football manager ended in failure. He was sacked by Fulham, the team he had played for, after nine months, in 1968. He was then hired by Second Division Ipswich Town, and his first couple of seasons there was anything but a laugh-a-minute, with senior players pushing their luck and trying it on.

But Robson had learned from the failure at Fulham, and helped by a Board of Directors who genuinely believed in him, turned it round, and by the time he left Ipswich, after 13 years, in 1982, he had built the club into one of the best, and most respected, in Europe.

Those who played for Sir Bobby had the utmost respect for him, because he treated them like adults, dealt swiftly with mischief makers, knew how to motivate individual players; some needed an arm around the shoulder, others responded better to a verbal ear bashing.

He knew how to get the best, he knew when to make changes, and never shirked in doing so. He was the boss, and everyone was aware of it. As it should be. But he was responsible and sensitive when it was required.

To stay with the football theme, another legendary football manager no longer with us, turned Liverpool FC for the ordinary to the great. He was Bill Shankly, who arrived at Anfield in 1959 when the club were no more than an average Second Division (as it then was) club, and struggling off the pitch, as well as on it. Shankly, though, had a vision, which he knew wouldn’t happen overnight, but was determined to turn a dream into the reality.

And he did. He modernised the run-down facilities at the club, he changed the attitude of the players, and their training routine, and spotted the potential of the coaching staff he inherited. He laboured, he tinkered, he was never scared of making changes, but most of all he believed. It took him three years to guide Liverpool back to the First Division, but by 1964 Liverpool won the League Championship, and became the dominating team in English football for 26 years.

And for a third example, lets take the England Rugby World Cup triumph of 2003, headed by coach Clive (now Sir Clive) Woodward.

It took him six gruelling years to reach the Promised Land of sporting glory, and this link: ably tells the fascinating story of how he did it. If you are a business leader looking for inspiration, then this is it. It perfectly aligns the worlds of business and sport, and it is well worth a read.

Any thriving entrepreneur will tell you that failure was part of the success story. Anyone taking their first steps into the unknown of running a business should be well aware that there will be tears before the cheers.

Let us finish with the observations of two other sporting icons. As the golfing great Arnold Palmer once said: “…always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.” In other words, however tough the going might be, whatever kind of day you have just endured, never give up.

And we will give the final word to the world’s greatest ever footballer, the brilliant Brazilian, Pele: “…the more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.”

So true. Remember: talent is given, greatness is the reward of hard work, and lots of it. Take the advice of the best ever in world sport, and make it work for your business!

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