5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Pro Sports Teams

There's a reason the business world is rife with sports analogies.

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By Tanner Simkins

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It's hard to work in the business world without hearing at least one sports analogy per day. The similarities between sports and business are undeniable, which explains why many business experts use sports terminology to describe complex business concepts to the uninitiated. It seems like entrepreneurs and business leaders have been learning new lessons from the sports world every year, for decades. Whether referring to managers as "coaches", work groups as "teams", or small conference rooms as "huddle spaces," the use of sports analogies in the business community is ubiquitous.

Next time you sit down to watch live sports (which will hopefully be soon), what if instead of simply watching the game, you could pick up tips to improve your business? Perhaps that water-cooler discussion about Sunday's game could become the impetus for a serious discussion about your company's business practices. You might be surprised to learn how many entrepreneurial lessons can be gleaned from the habits of your favorite teams and athletes.

Rather than focusing on specific teams, this article will explore some of the common characteristics of successful sports teams and how they can be applied to your business. We will look at the following attributes: diversified skillsets, delayed gratification, building a team mentality, attention to detail, and celebrating accomplishments.

Diversified skillsets

To be successful, either in sports or business, it is vital to embrace the myriad personalities and working styles on your team and find ways to let each player shine. The entrepreneur must realize they cannot do everything themselves and allow others with different skills to "own" the tasks they are better suited for. For example, the athlete who is talented on the basketball court will not necessarily excel on the soccer field.

As Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has said, "Within the Seahawks scheme, everybody can be who they are." If your company fosters that same spirit, it will be much better positioned for success.

Every skill set is different, and the greatest athletes focus their attention on the sport they play best. Entrepreneurs function in much the same way; they find out where they excel and hone those skills through practice and training. The business leader who has mastered public speaking, for example, might want to leave the detailed paperwork to another team member, and the natural marketer may leave staffing decisions to someone else.

Related: 7 Ways to Build an Olympic-Caliber Business Team

Delayed gratification

One of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence, delayed gratification is the willingness to make a sacrifice to achieve rewards down the road. This principle applies to so many different aspects of life: In sports it may be seen in the daily life of an athlete who gives up vacation time for more rigorous training or foregoing that sugary dessert the night before a big game. In the life of an entrepreneur, delayed gratification might mean coming in early or working late to ensure a presentation is perfect, or it could mean giving up that fancy new car to invest every penny in the business.

The reality is every entrepreneur will make sacrifices to drive the success of their business; it's the price one pays to reach the next level.

Building a team mentality

As the great Babe Ruth once said, "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime."

Teamwork is not just something that happens on the field, or at a big presentation; it's having a "game-changer" mentality that informs hundreds of small decisions along the way. In baseball, this mentality is seen when a batter decides to bunt to advance the runner into scoring position. In hockey, it's when a player passes the puck to another player who has a better shot at the net. Game-changers have the potential to completely change direction for the good of the team and are essential for a team that wants to win.

An entrepreneur can build a game-changing team that operates in much the same way, by sharing credit with others and making sacrifices that benefit the whole team. If the team wins, everyone wins, and a well-functioning team understands this.

Related: 17 Inspirational Quotes to Instantly Foster Teamwork When Unity Is ...

Attention to detail

Every serious and well-trained athlete has one thing in common — an obsession with details. Often, they can tell you exactly how many minutes they have worked out, or how calories they have consumed that day. They wake up early and go to the gym on weekends and faithfully run their daily five miles, even when it rains. That's because they know details matter when it comes to fitness results, and fitness is essential to performance.

Professional sports teams want players who are serious about maintaining a rigorous training schedule. Drills are repeated and skills refined, play books are memorized, and coaches make sure each athlete studies the competition. Why do athletes pay such close attention to these details? Because they know that it is these little details that can make or break their performance.

Personal fitness is important for business owners too, but just like pro sports teams the fitness of the company must be evaluated frequently. For example, is the company capitalized well enough to endure a prolonged economic downturn? Are key roles filled by employees who are best suited for the job? Does the company offer opportunities for advancement and other perks to attract top talent? Entrepreneurs must be just detail oriented as professional coaches if they are to be successful.

Celebrating accomplishments

Lastly, the best analogy between professional sports and business can be seen in a demonstrative celebration of one player's success. When a baseball player hits a homerun, his team is already standing on the field ready to cheer him home, and when he crosses home plate the entire team gives him hi-fives and hugs while jumping up and down in celebration.

While not all employees would want to be carried around the office on their coworkers' shoulders, this doesn't mean they cannot celebrate a job well done. Entrepreneurs and business leaders can find ways to cheer one another on when an associate hits a sales target or wins a new client. Not only does this foster unity; it gives an incentive for others to accomplish their goals.

Following these simple lessons from the world of sports can improve any entrepreneur's prospects of success.

Related: 7 Keys to Building a Winning Startup Team

Tanner Simkins

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Founder and CEO of Complete SET Agency

Simkins is founder and CEO of Complete SET Agency, a full-service sports entertainment firm that works with multinational brands, athlete entertainers and accredited investors. Simkins holds degrees from the University of Miami and Columbia University. 

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