Entrepreneurs Need to Train Like Elite Athletes, According to a Former Pro Badminton Player
Burnout, stress, anxiety, or fear can and often do impact entrepreneurs when they are trying to actualize their ideas and their ambitions. And, it is not uncommon for that wide-eyed ambition to be stalked by a silent sibyl questioning and prophesying some impending demise or imminent failure. Often, an entrepreneur will ask themselves questions like - will my startup experiment fail? What will happen to my employees if it does? Did I make a mistake doing this?
This is not an unknown phenomenon, with many budding entrepreneurs falling by the wayside, swept up, or put out by worries and uncertainties. As a serial entrepreneur, I have often heard these persistent concerns, calling an end to my career, my startups, and my ambitions. But over time, and after a variety of attempts to mediate these worries, I have rediscovered an aspect from my past that has kept both my mind and body sharp and primed to withstand the stresses that come with the territory.
I am an entrepreneur with an elite athlete mindset and now train myself accordingly. And, if you are an entrepreneur or small business owner then you should be training like one, too.
How entrepreneurs are like elite athletes
The parallels between elite athletes and entrepreneurs are manifold. In elite sports, athletes are wired and conditioned to compete at the highest levels - week in and week out - all while knowing that if they make too many mistakes there are always others who are willing and able to take their place. Entrepreneurs intuitively understand that type of grind, as they are also experiencing high stakes competition, be it with their business competitors, or just as the elite figure skaters, having to impress their own judges — their consumers.
Not only do elite athletes and entrepreneurs have to endure similar crucibles in which they must prove their worth, but they also share similar mentalities and characteristics. Some of these characteristics that they have in common are things like tenacity, passion, and drive — all of which are necessary ingredients for that unique alchemy that determines their success. For that reason, they can learn from one another to help them improve within their respective fields.
How do I know this?
Well for one, I am a serial entrepreneur, but I am also a former professional badminton player.
Years in elite sport taught me how to be a better entrepreneur
It is fair to say my childhood could be measured out in “birdies” - the high drag projectile used to play the sport of badminton - and the time I spent committing myself to endless hours of practice hitting them. That is how I developed my skills and endurance well enough to become a professional player. From this early dedication to the sport, I refined my ability to attribute passion to an abstract thing, which in this case was badminton.
That is what entrepreneurs do, too. Often, they are attributing passion to some hare-brained, barely conceivable idea, but because they are so devoted to it they are willing to put in the countless hours to try and make their ideas go “pro” or become a success.
Elite sport taught me many things that I use today in my career as an entrepreneur, such as following a passion, learning to deal with failure, but also how to take care of my body when it’s living with the stresses of the job. This has kept me agile, able, and motivated to be an entrepreneur many times over.
So, if you are an entrepreneur, here is how you can train yourself as an elite athlete too.
How can entrepreneurs train like elite athletes?
What follows are, in my opinion, the three decisive training aspects of elite athletes that can be adopted by entrepreneurs. This list is by no means exhaustive, but these training tips will undoubtedly improve your health, but also the health of the work you are committing yourself to.
1. Focus on your sleep
Elite athletes are finely tuned machines, and as such, they require optimal patterns of sleep. The research is quite extensive, showing that athletes who have better and more sleep than their competitors typically have better performances. In this vein, entrepreneurs and elite athletes are the same, as entrepreneurs need their cognitive skills to be just as finely tuned as an athlete does with their body.
In a recent study shared by The Harvard Business Review, researchers have found significant improvements in cognitive performance from those entrepreneurs who had more sleep. They found that adequate sleep significantly improved the ability of entrepreneurs to spot good ideas - which can be critical to your success.
This is all easier said than done, of course, as the vagaries of entrepreneurship can often interrupt any form of routine. The point is, you should make sleep work for you. Determine whether you work better at night, or in the morning, or if you are a person who can run on intermittent naps. Enlist a sleep coach or download an app, the main crux is that you find a way to get enough sleep so that your performance does not suffer.
2. Accomplish more by working intelligently
Elite runners have to get adequate rest, and the same goes for bodybuilders - muscles grow when they are recovering. To have any lasting power in the game, you cannot beat your body to oblivion if you want to be able to compete and compete consistently.
For many years, athletes lived by the ethos that training hard and intense, all the time, would help improve their performance, but that has been thoroughly debunked. The science shows that adequate rest is paramount for the success of any training regimen. The equation “stress + rest= growth” has been adopted by athletes, and it should certainly find a home in the world of entrepreneurship.
Working intelligently will pay dividends for the entrepreneur in the long run. Studies have revealed that there is an optimal amount of time for effective concentration, some say it is 52 minutes of work, and then a break, while others believe it is 20 minutes for full concentration. It has been shown that when entrepreneurs adopt this type of intelligent work cycle in which they are aware of when to take a step back and clear their thoughts, their productivity improves.
Further, it has been shown that when you take a step away from work and give your mind a rest, your decision making improves, and you have more “aha” moments that lead to more creative and intelligent solutions.
As an entrepreneur, you should adopt this principle, even if it feels strange at first to leave your work sporadically throughout the day. Go set a timer and break up your hours accordingly, and you will find that you are working more efficiently, and critically, making even better decisions.
3. Get yourself a mentor or a coach
It is nearly impossible to think of an athlete competing without a coach. Usain Bolt has one, I had one while I was playing badminton, every team in every sport has one as well.
Because coaches are integral to the success of elite athletes because they make sure that they are constantly aware of their training, their sport, and the many variables that surround them. They motivate, mentor, and push the athlete forward so that they can accomplish their goals.
Entrepreneurs, or startup founders, can unequivocally benefit from the help of a coach or mentor. If you are new to the game or just starting out, having a mentor to help guide you and help you network within the industry will provide an optimal platform for when you begin.
If you do not have the luxury of prior connections for a coach or mentor, they are not that difficult to find. There are countless startup accelerators out there for you to join, that help with investment, and provide office spaces. But, you should do your research before you join one, and look for those accelerators that also have strong market networks and actively provide coaching sessions for nascent entrepreneurs. Find a coach or mentor who can guide you through the initial uncertainties of the business and to help you open doors, but just as an elite athlete, the coach is not going to compete for you - that you will have to do it for yourself.