A Sports Pro's Guide to Entrepreneurship

Sports is dramatic, real and most importantly unscripted, which makes it inspirational

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Sports is one of the greatest motivators of our time. It is about excellence, pushing yourself to the limit and also taking success and failure in your stride. Moreover sports is dramatic, real and most importantly unscripted, which makes it inspirational. There are multiple things that can be learnt from playing or even watching a sport.


1. Ability Without the Right Attitude Leads to Limited Success:

Several times you find that talented players who impress early don’t seem to progress too far simply because they have poor work ethic. Entrepreneurs start off because they have a winning idea. But along with an idea and the skill to take it forward, they need hard work, discipline and the ability to handle pressure etc. These days funding is not difficult to get, if you have an impressive business plan. But that’s only the beginning.

2. The Best Player Doesn’t Always Make the Best Captain: The game of cricket is replete with examples of great players who made poor captains, who were on top of their own game but didn’t quite enjoy the burden of managing 10 others. A majority of start-ups have techies as founders. They have very impressive functional skills which is great to start-off with. As the team grows, with other partners and then employees, it becomes difficult for him to manage the setup. As a leader, he needs to be a great communicator who can inspire the team to share his vision— something he hasn’t done so far.

3. Every Innings Starts From Zero: Some entrepreneurs think of striking out on their own because they have met with considerable success in their previous jobs. You could have scored many runs in your earlier innings or assignments but you cannot bring that arrogance or baggage to the start-up. You have to start from the scratch when you start up. 

4. Growth Necessitates Change: There’s a difference between playing club level sport and playing for your national side. Going to the next level requires upgrading your skills, working on your temperament as well as handling a much higher level of pressure. Even if you were great at the lower level, you need to raise your game. 

5. Giving up The Me For The We: ‘Team before self’ - this is a popular saying in sports. As the start-up grows, it stops being all about the founder. Different people handle different functions and for the organization to function well, they all need to move in the same direction.

6. Diversity Enriches Teams: Tournaments like the IPL are great for learning since the teams are so heterogenous in terms of skills, experience and culture. Entrepreneurs too need to consciously build teams with diverse skills and resist the temptation to hire clones.

7. Champions Emerge Stronger from Challenges: The ability to bounce back from a setback is what separates champions  from the rest. Entrepreneurship and risk go hand-in-hand and resilience along with optimism is an useful character in an entrepreneur’s kitbag. 

8. To be A Champion, You Need To Win in All Conditions: Sportsmen like the challenge of playing on different surfaces, weather conditions, different altitudes and against different opponents. Not all players can adapt their play to different formats like tests, ODIs and T20s. Entrepreneurs need to tweak their business model frequently especially if policies and market conditions change. The ability to be flexible and adapt is a key requirement.

9. Defence is As Essential a Skill As Attack: Aggressive play is always more exciting to watch but when the going gets tough, you need to defend. When the business is doing well, it’s great to spend and invest but when it is not, there will be times when you need to cut back. The resources may fluctuate but resourcefulness needs to be practiced. 

10. Leaders Come With a Shelf-life: Leaders need to grow along with their business but like players can outgrow their coaches, there comes a time when the business might be in safer hands if handed over to another leader. A successful coach for the under 19s may not be the best coach for the national side. A leader will continue to be useful only as long as he/she can add value to the business at that level.

(This article was first published in the November, 2017 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Anita and Harsha Bhogle

Written By

Anita Bhogle and Harsha Bhogle are co-authors of The Winning Way 2.0—Learning from sport for managers