5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Football Coaches

The ability to motivate and galvanize a team is the difference between leaders and managers.

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By Larry Alton

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One of the most important roles of an entrepreneur tends to get buried among all the others -- the role of coach. Yes, entrepreneurs are leaders, decision makers and idea generators. All those roles are important, but without a well-assembled, motivated team to carry out your orders, all those awesome ideas falter.

Just like a football coach's own direction and motivation can win or lose a game, an entrepreneur can make a startup succeed or fail. If you want to make yourself a better entrepreneur, look how some of football's greatest coaches have led their teams to victory, and apply those lessons to your own startup:

1. You have to understand the competition.

Football and entrepreneurship are both competitive ventures. Successful coaches know that beating the competition is about more than just being as good as you can. You have to understand the psychology and makeup of the competition. If they have a weak defense, you need to take advantage of it. If they rely on one key player to win, you have to stop that player.

Key opportunities like these are critical in deciding the outcome of games, and the burden of effort lies with coaches to hunt them down. In the entrepreneurship world, competition is equally intimidating. It's not enough to lead your company by "being really good." You have to understand what drives your competitors, why people continue to buy from them and learn key weaknesses that your brand can use as differentiating factors. Without that understanding, you might end up with a good product but the "other team" will always have an edge.

Related: Coaching Makes All the Difference

2. Good players don't automatically make a team.

The power of teamwork can't be understated. Good coaches know that building a good team takes more than just finding good players. It's better to have 11 decent players that work well together than 11 outstanding players who have no synergy.

Successful coaches like Joe Paterno worked to build this team bond by making the team do everything together, from practicing to cleaning the stadium. As an entrepreneur, you'll need to keep this in mind as well. Don't hire talented team members only because they're talented, or you'll wind up with a group of indifferent and selfish, yet skilled, workers who can never quite get on the same page. Create a culture before making hires. Always work to integrate new members into the welcoming whole of the team. Better teamwork means better communication, more positive environments and more efficient work.

3. Emotion and motivation go hand in hand.

In football and in a business, if you want a team to work hard and strive for success, you need to inspire them. You need to build confidence, invest in a team mentality, and help them find passion in their work. Emotion is at the root of motivation, and as an entrepreneur, you'll be faced with a similar role. Get your team members to truly believe in your brand, enjoy their work, and take pride in your group accomplishments, and nothing will be able to slow them down.

Related: 38 of the Most Inspirational Leadership Quotes

4. Incremental and long-term goals are necessary for success.

A coach can make a long-term goal to improve offensive performance in the second half, and build up to that with short-term goals like doing extra drills every day to build up endurance. Every coach, even those completely new to the game, succeeds or fails because of their short-term and long-term goals.

As an entrepreneur, you'll have to make long-term and short-term goals for your business. Where do you want to be in five years? How are you going to get there? What goals can you accomplish right now to get you moving in that direction? If you can establish these goals, and get your entire team is on board with them, you'll have no issue making steady progress to your eventual destination.

5. Setbacks are inevitable but usually temporary.

When a football team loses a game, they don't immediately give up, never to play football again. Good coaches will use the loss as motivation to try even harder next time. They know setbacks are unavoidable, but almost every setback is temporary. There will always be another game, and another opportunity to succeed.

Successful entrepreneurs are equally patient. When a competitor outbids them, they don't sweat it. They just move on to the next opportunity. When they miss a deadline, they focus on what they can do now instead of dwelling on the past. Patience is key to overcoming those hurdles.

A coach's responsibility don't end with creating the plays, setting the goals or making all the decisions. He's also responsible for bringing the team together and giving them all the resources they need to get the job done. Sometimes that comes as direction, sometimes it's motivation. Sometimes, it's just as a collaborator.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, adopt the coaching mindset. Your team can help you take your idea to the next level or drive yourself to financial ruin. It's up to you which direction you take them.

Related: Entrepreneur Magazine Launches Special Coaching Program

Larry Alton

Freelance Writer & Former Entrepreneur

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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