Leadership Lessons from Sports

Oct 22, 2019

Whenever sporting events like the World Series roll around, I can’t help but think of all the factors that contributed to each team’s success in the season. 

 As a former athlete, I have always been inspired by stories of athletes overcoming the odds. The world of sports is full of record breakers, victorious underdogs, and strong leaders who do the impossible. 

 But more than just excelling in their field (pun intended), these athletes have inspired me with the leadership qualities they exemplify. Qualities that have benefitted me as an athlete but even more as a businessperson. 

Here are just a few of the stories that have resonated with me and proven just how transferable these sports leadership skills can be in our daily lives. 

 Determination and Discipline

The 2012 Summer Olympics brought together one of the most legendary groups of basketball players the US Men’s team has ever seen.

 Among these legends was Kobe Bryant, easily one of the best known and most successful players of his time. 

 After winning the gold medal for the United States, the team’s trainer gave the world a sneak peek into Kobe’s incredibly disciplined training regiment.

 Rob, the team’s trainer, recalls Kobe waking him up at 4:15 in the morning, asking to run drills with him before an 11 a.m. practice. After a few hours of shooting and weight training, Rob returned to the hotel to take a nap, but Bryant kept practicing. In fact, he kept practicing until he joined Rob and the rest of his team for their scheduled practice. That means, he practiced a total of 7 hours by himself before the team practice even began.

 Bryant was 34 years old, and had already won 2 Olympic gold medals and 5 NBA championships, but his work ethic never decreased with time. If anything, he practiced even harder to earn the status of legend.

 Most sports have stories of this kind of dedication, practice, and discipline in achieving personal goals. 

Business is just the same. We can look at other people’s success and attribute it to something they were born with, making it unattainable. Or we can put in the hours, the hard work, and the determination that make other people marvel at our discipline. This is especially true for business leaders who have had some success in the past. Don’t let your success be an excuse to stop, let it be motivation to keep going even harder. 

 Learn From Failure

Bleacher Report recently ranked Babe Ruth among the most beloved athletes of all time. Although he stopped playing baseball in 1935 his status as a sports legend has lived on for over eighty years, as has his home run record, which has been surpassed only by Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. 

 What most people don’t know is that at one point in his career, Ruth also held the record for most strikeouts in the sport for nearly a decade. 

 That’s right, one of the greatest baseball players of all time ranked among those with the most mistakes in the sport. 

 Surprising? You bet. But what’s even more surprising is the way in which he viewed this unflattering record. He is reported to have said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” 

 Was he right? I think his long-standing home run record speaks for itself, and shows just how powerful a person’s reaction to failure can be. 

 The truth is, no one achieves greatness without making a few mistakes along the way. It’s inevitable. 

 This is especially true in the business world, where failure is avoided at all costs for fear of being shamed or even fired. But I think that if we are failing forward, there are no limits to the success we can achieve. One of the greatest leadership lessons that can be learned from sports is that failure is going to happen, it’s what you do with that failure that really matters. Are you going to let it hinder you or motivate you to be better than you were before? 

Teamwork and Communication

 In the most recent winter Olympics, the US team won the gold in a sport you might have overlooked – curling.

The men’s team beat Canada, the three-time defending champion, to reach the finals for the first time in US curling history. From there, the team beat Sweden to cap off a gold medal victory. 

 Now, for those of you who aren’t avid curling fans, the sport involves sliding a 42-pound granite stone over ice, where your teammates sweep the ice in front of the stone to make it go faster and farther. 

 Sound simple?

Well it isn’t. Mainly because you aren’t just aiming at one spot, you have to strategically place the “rock” to block your opponents, all the while communicating with your teammates to make sure that it lands in the intended location. And that’s the kicker. You may place your shot perfectly, but if one of your teammates is off, it won’t land where it’s supposed to. 

 Needless to say, communication is extremely important. So much so that the team’s sports psychologist required the members of the U.S. team to take a behavioral assessment test as part of their training. She found that different members of the team needed to be communicated with differently in order to get the best results. Some people needed a lot of reassurance and others wanted time to process. 

 How about that? The team made its way to success by not only understanding the fundamentals of the sport but also understanding the fundamental differences in each other. 

 These are the things that inspire me as a leader. Because although teamwork and strong communication skills apply to many sports, they apply to all businesses. The idea of knowing your teammates in order to get the best results for your team is the principle that strong businesses are built upon. 

 Though the world of sports can be looked at simply for entertainment value, I would encourage you to take these lessons for what they are and to apply them in your own life. And if you’re not a fan of sports, you can still be inspired by the incredible feats of these athletes. Feats that are within your power to duplicate in your own unique way.

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