Playing Sports and Succeeding in Business – Why They Often Go Together

I will admit it right upfront. In business, I tend to be partial to colleagues, associates or partners that have a background in playing sports. Or, at the very least, I tend to gravitate towards them. Why?

Because I believe, based on my own experience and those of so many other people I know, that playing sports and succeeding in business go together. I believe that people who have played sports even at an intermediate level, much less an advanced or professional level, were taught things inherently at a young age that others weren’t. This statement obviously doesn’t apply to everyone. There are tremendous business success stories of people whose sole passion and mission in life was to be successful in business and they eschewed playing sports. But, overall as a general rule, I still believe playing sports at a young age is beneficial in cementing certain personality traits which fuels success in business later in life. After all, most people, unless they’re in the minority, play a sport before they even sell lemonade at a lemonade stand as a kid.

Quick sidebar: when I use the term “playing sports”, I mean people who dedicated some portion of time towards getting better and achieving on a high level. Examples would be: making your high school soccer team; earning a college scholarship; playing a sport professionally; becoming a state champion wrestler. What I’m not referring to is taking beginner tennis lessons one summer; going surfing three times; playing golf once every two years; or shooting baskets in your driveway. You get my drift.

So what exactly is it about playing sports which translates so well to a business career later in life? I’ll give you my top four things. There are more, but I’ll spare you since I could go on and on.

1) Discipline. Discipline is basically an activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill. To do anything well, in sports, business, life or anything else, you must have discipline. Since most people are exposed to sports at a young age before they’re exposed to anything business-related, sports are the first opportunity for kids to learn discipline. The longer you stick with a sport, and the more you achieve in that sport, the more disciplined you get. Sure, pure talent can take some people pretty far. But every single person I know who has played a sport has learned how to be disciplined. How does discipline learned playing sports translate to business? Through learning how to prepare for meetings. How to jump out of bed for an important conference call or meeting. How to finish jobs and not just start them.

2) Teamwork. This is an easy one. Playing sports and succeeding in business rely on a lot of team work. What’s that famous phrase….”no man is an island unto himself.” Well, when you kick your first soccer ball, or make your first pass on the basketball court, you’re learning teamwork. Teamwork is a loose term people like to throw around pretty easily. To me, it basically means that you know how to function and communicate effectively amongst others. In business, even if you’re a sole proprietor, you likely have customers, partners, or vendors that are all part of your team that you still have to communicate and work with effectively. There’s that example, all the way up to people who work for large corporations. You need to know how to work with other people directly and indirectly, and sports teaches that.

3) Goal-Setting. My favorite one. When people start out playing sports, even at the beginner level, it is because they want to learn that sport. As they progress, and presumably get better and better, the bar rises. Maybe it is to make your Little League team. Then start on your Little League team. Then make the city All-Star squad. Then make your high school team. You get the idea, but sports is really the first thing (other than perhaps making good grades) which teaches kids at an early age how to set goals, improve, work hard towards them, and then set the next goal. In business, those qualities are exactly the same. Most people, if not every single person I know, never finish their business career exactly where they started. They go through a lot of twists and turns, sometimes in the same profession but sometimes in something completely different. In order to navigate success in business through the various twists and turns, it helps to know how to set goals and how to take precise steps to achieve them. Sports teaches that.

4) Competitiveness. Now the first three things I just listed could be named by anyone who got good at something outside of sports and used those qualities to be successful in business. For instance, if you became a world-class musician at a young age, you likely were exposed to numbers one through three above. It is number four – competitiveness – that makes sports so unique when considering its impact on people’s business careers later in life. Because sports is competitive in at least three ways: mental, spiritual and physical. If you learn competitiveness (while maintaining sportsmanship, please) in all three ways, it is extremely beneficial in business. Often, people who succeed in business that have succeeded in sports know how to compete physically; perhaps by controlling what time to go to sleep, when to wake up, how to control energy levels. Also, they know how to compete mentally; perhaps by controlling your temper, knowing how to keep your cool when things get tough, knowing how to outsmart the opponent. Finally, sports and business can both be very spiritual in the sense that if you can envision your own destiny and the steps it takes to get there, it often turns out how you envision. I’m not much into self-fulfilling prophecies, but I do think confidence, focus and vision are all part of spirituality in both sports and business.

So, my conclusion, and I guess where my biases lie, is that playing sports and succeeding in business go hand in hand.

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