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The Sport of Business (Volume One)

July 21st, 2022

I’ve been a lover of sports my entire life.  I enjoy the challenge, the competition, the goal setting, the camaraderie, and much, much more.  I especially love team sports. 

I’m certainly not the first person to draw parallels between sports and business, but I talk about the subject often, and several business owners have encouraged me to write about it.   They felt that my thoughts could help entrepreneurs lead more successful companies.  To date, I haven’t obliged.

As I was watching the Major League Baseball All Star Game last night, I decided to cave in and get some thoughts down in writing.   Unfortunately, there are way too many thoughts for a blog article, so I’m going to take this in small bites…:

To provide some perspective, my earliest memories in life involved playing baseball.   I was a 3- sport athlete in high school, played two varsity sports in college, and continued playing baseball at a high level until I was in my 40s.   I would still be playing if my eyesight would allow it (hardballs move with velocity).  I’ve also coached my 3 boys and thousands of kids and celebrated as dozens of them moved on to achieve great things playing in college and the major leagues.  Whatever path they ultimately chose, I have no doubt that all of them learned valuable life lessons from participating that can serve them well in their careers.

On the business front, I directed teams and divisions in several Fortune 500 companies early in my career, founded, grew, and sold 5 private companies, and have spent the last 25 years helping successful entrepreneurs and CEOs implement processes and practices and build and scale into their teams to create high-value, built-to-sell companies.

I only share this background to answer the “why should I listen to this guy?” question — my whole life has included deep dives into sports, coaching, and business.  

I’m not suggesting here that all superior business owners have the strength, speed, size, coordination, or other physical attributes necessary to be a professional athlete, or that all great athletes possess the skills and attributes required to quickly become superior CEOs.  However, I can say that the principles, processes, beliefs, mindset, and habits that make a successful athlete are nearly identical to those of a world-class entrepreneur.

So here goes.  Over the next few months, I’ll share a few attributes and insights that I believe are the ESSENTIAL ingredients to achieve the absolute highest levels, in either sports or business.  So here goes…: 

 1.      Desire:   No great athletes simply show up and consistently dominate.   They love what they do, and they practice, practice, practice.   The most successful entrepreneurs love what they do in the service of people who love what they do.  This passion drives them to learn to love practice.  When you witness a superstar on TV gracefully performing a feat that seems nearly impossible, you can be sure that they can do it because they have practiced the same routines thousands of times, over and over until they own it.  All athletes (and owners) that achieve great things practice consistently, incessantly, and habitually.  

 2.   Commitment:   Superior results require unconditional commitment.  Great owners (and athletes) understand that there will be hurdles.   Sometimes the journey even hurts (mentally, emotionally, or physically).   Great owners, athletes, and teams understand what it takes.  They therefore commit to leaving their Comfort Zone.   They understand that achieving the highest heights means breaking through all sorts of obstacles, curve balls, and uncertainties. It’s a minefield out there.  Compelled by their desire and commitment, superstars train themselves to become very comfortable with being uncomfortable.   

 3.   Planning for Proactivity:   Success in business or sport rarely occurs by accident.   It requires a Plan.  Mediocre performers show up on the field of play (or business) and react to the events of the day.  Conversely, superstars have a plan.  The best understand that they can do anything, but they cannot do everything, and they never allow distractions to take them out of their practice routines and processes.  They commit to non-negotiable activities that are indelibly embedded into their calendars.  This focus upon important over urgent allows individuals and teams to grow faster because they learn faster, and moves them profitably forward week after week, month after month.   After a year or two, they most often have left their competitors in the dust.

4.     Humility:   All superior athletes and business leaders understand that they don’t know what they don’t know.  They understand that even if they are at the very top of their game or “in the zone”, there is always someone right behind seeking to gain advantage.  John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time said: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you!”

 Even the best of the best understand that they do not have all the answers (not even close).  They therefore adopt a Practice that includes…:

a.      Skills Development (they learn by doing–Correct practice, practice, practice)

b.      Coaching (for insights, perspectives, accountability, and more)

c.       Collaboration (aka:  Structured Peer Learning)

d.      Curriculum (books, videos, post-mortems, game films, the right tools…)

e.      Community (massive synergies, opportunities, and learning)

Superior performers proactively control their Time and MAKE SURE that they develop the habit of working on all 5 of these components each and every month 

5.    Discipline and Mental Toughness:   Good news here.   Success in business (or in sports) is mostly about doing easy things.   Self-discipline is almost entirely about doing easy things but doing them consistently.   Interestingly, most athletes and entrepreneurs don’t do these easy things (bad news for them, good news for you)!   Most don’t learn what these key components are, and many of those who do learn, don’t commit to maintaining the mental toughness, discipline, and patience required to follow the routines necessary to blow away their competition.    If you do, you will. I’m sure you know about the wealth, job-creation, and many other rewards that success in business can bring.

I can guarantee you every one of the players in last night’s MLB All Star Game follow and implement each and every one of the ingredients I’ve listed in this article.   The All-star players came in all shapes and sizes from a very diverse assortment of countries.  Many came from very poor families, but their discipline and consistency has rewarded them handsomely.  The average annual salary of the 4 dozen players at last night’s game exceeded 20 million dollars, and many of them have long term contracts and a net worth exceeding $200 million.

I’m sure you know about the wealth, job-creation, and many other rewards that success in business can bring.

There are many more parallels between successful athletic teams and business teams I can share, but we’ll hold those for another day.   If you start with the ones I’ve listed, you’ll have a huge advantage.

If you’d like to share your own, please comment or email me.  I’d love to hear from you. 

Hope this helps and cheers to your future success! 


Copyright © Joe Zente 2022. All Rights Reserved.