What we can learn in business from successful sportsmen

What we can learn in business from successful sportsmen

Be prepared for the unexpected – in business as well as in sports. To survive in today’s VUCA-world (volatility-uncertainty-complexity-ambiguity), we have to learn much more about our strengths and weaknesses than we did before. Awareness is key to be successful. In this blog, I would like to show you some important key messages I learned and experiences during my time as sportsman in swimming as well as mental coach for many professional sportsmen and –women from different disciplines. Most of us had the challenge to repeat success, with other competitors, under different outside conditions (e.g. climate, accommodations, food) and in different mental preconditions (being the favorite, coming back after log illness, being the outsider …). As sportsman, you have to learn to focus what is essential for you and accept the other things as they are, because you cannot change them. You can just change your attitude towards them! The following key points may help you to transfer these learnings into our business world.

Get regular feedback and take action out of it

As sportsman, you get regular feedback – during training in a high frequency and after competition. Feedback and trying to implement it is necessary to improve. This is very clear for sportsmen, but is it also clear for us in business? I experience very often that many of us do not see the difference between feedback and criticism. Feedback means we decide in the end what we do with the feedback; we are responsible for our success. As sportsman, you also get many comments from outside, but you trust those feedbacks you see as valuable and from people you have a trustful relationship with – hopefully as sportsman, you have it with your coach, otherwise it will be hard for you to be successful. In business, it is not so easy to find your “coach”. Even if many leaders offer feedback and coaching for their associates, it is often not easy to accept this role for the associates especially if leaders are not used to do it and do not get feedback on giving feedback themselves. I can just recommend asking for feedback from people you really trust, e.g. current and former colleagues or current and former supervisors. If you really ask for feedback, you will find out much more about your strength, but also on your weaknesses. This may sometimes be not easy for you, but this is the potential for your personal success!

Measure the performance and take conclusions

In my time as swimmer, the stopwatch of my coach as well as the big ones in the swimming hall were key at any time. They indicated my current performance, they gave me corridors to work in, and they directly gave me clear feedback. Many agile and lean programs in production, engineering and administrative areas focus exactly on these measures in business content.

Train under different conditions and in different environments

Sportsmen learn to train not only the discipline they are competing in. As swimmer, this means in the water not only train freestyle if you are good at this. You also train the other strokes like butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke as well as many technical variants. Outside the water stretching, work with barbells and dynamic ropes as well as jogging, cycling and nordic skiing. Additionally, you train in pools with different temperatures and sometimes even in open water. Alone on a lane, but also with more people together causing waves you may also have in certain competitive situations.  There are many more factors you try to play with to be successful in the most important competition of the year.

For us in business this means getting out of our comfort zone. Let us start not to complain what is not possible, let us think how we can make it happen. We have to learn to differentiate which parameters are really fix and which ones are only fix in our heads. That opens new perspectives, room for new solutions that makes us as company even stronger.

Work on mental strength – learn to fail and to stand up

It is very nice to perform better than expected – but it is very hard not to fulfill expectations. In business as well as in sports! Being successful means taking failure serious, learn from it and come back fast with better performance and mentally strengthened. Family, friends and other interests help you as sportsman to get the necessary mental balance. Focusing on your sport is important, but seeing that as the only thing in live is quite dangerous. There can be always situations where it becomes mentally hard for you, where others are better then you in important sport completion or in business, where others win an important project you and your team worked on for many weeks or months or someone else getting the job you expected. Having no mental balance can lead very fast to burnout. My suggestion is to plan also time outside work to fill up your accumulators for business – by doing sports or being with family and friends.

Planning of relaxation and regeneration time is for a professional sportsman as important as planning training time. Do we really do that also in business?

I hope you found some interesting reflections that help you to stay or become successful.