Top 11 Lessons to Learn from Team Sports and Apply to Your Business

Topics: Achievement, Business, Culture, Inspiration, Leadership, Motivation, Perseverance, Strategy By: Jackie Ta

Have you ever wonder what makes leaders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs so successful or what makes companies thrive? I have, and I thought what better way to describe what makes great leaders or companies thrive than to use sport analogy. In this article, I’ll talk about the UEFA Euro 2012 Soccer Semi-Finals and Final. As I was watching these games, I couldn’t help but think how they could be used in the corporate world and in a highly competitive market.  Is there a set of principles that result in the creation of a healthy, high-performance team? I think principles do exist that would explain why some leaders or companies set the standards and precedence for high performance while others fail.  Sunday game displays these principles in full force.

Before I give you my top principles, I’d like to describe briefly the Euro competitions to get us in the right frame of mind. Spain, heading into the tournament, seemed to be a favorite win prediction.  After all, they held a European Championships and the World Cup in a row. Italy played a great semi-final on Thursday, June 28, as they beat Germany 2-1.  While Spain was looking to win another  championship, Italy was aiming for their first big title since winning the 2006 World Cup. These two teams proved why they’re advancing to the July 1st Finals. Both teams came into the Finals with solid defenses. What makes the Finals worthy of being mentioned here is how Spain played the game and how Italy did the best that they could despite unexpected challenges. Obviously there are a lot of factors that may have influenced or impacted the game. For example, one may argue that Italy, unlike Spain, didn’t have the benefit of rest after winning the semi-final against Germany.  However, keep in mind that winning is partly due to a well executed team strategy in a competitive team environment and how well the team recoups when faced with challenges. This is no different in the business world.

Here is a list of some high-performance practices that will help put you at the top of your game and become a master of your game.

  1. Observe your competitors. It becomes clear why Spain took home an unprecedented three major titles in a row.  The team obviously observed their competition during the Italy vs Germany game. They knew Italy’s strengths and weaknesses. During this semi-final game, Mario Balotelli scored twice helping his team advance to the Euro Final. He was the player to watch. In the final game, Spain players were shadowing Balotelli, preventing him from repeating his winning goals. Know your competitions. We live in a highly competitive market, and in order to survive and take the lead, we need to shadow leaders. If you’re a sports fan, observe and shadow legendary players like soccer player Pele, hockey player Gretzky, basketball player Michael Jordan, or any other top players in their respective fields. If you’re an entrepreneur, a corporate leader, a business owner, or a leader in your field, observe and shadow leaders who have achieved greatness such as Bill Gates and Steve Job. It can be in or outside of your industry. Pick someone to learn from. The list is endless. The bottom-line is you have to shadow a leader to be a leader. Aim to be someone that others will shadow and look up to.
  2. Know your market/arena. Soccer, like any team sport, is a complex game with endless possibilities. Think of your market in the same way. Your opportunities are endless. Your success in your market, like that of a sport team, depends on your ability to read the game, make quick decisions, and communicate with your team. As long as you’re constantly evaluating the game and reading your market, you’ll be better position to respond in a way that increases your likelihood of scoring a goal. Remember, it’s how you use your knowledge of your market to play a successful game.
  3. Have a clear strategy. No matter how great players’ dribbling, shooting, and passing skills may be, they all are useless without a clear strategy. So, what was Spain’s strategy going into the Finals? The best strategy is to learn on the field. They have a clear strategy that they beautifully executed. Their shadowing of Balotelli worked in their favor.  Their strategy fosters a team culture of winning.  They were all on the same page with the same purpose and direction. What does this mean to you? Establish a clear strategy, communicate it to the team, and keep them focused on that strategy. Determine what you want to do and put together a plan to achieve it. When you work with teams, you have to communicate that clear plan and actively listen to each other about how you might need to flex the plan to get the desired results.
  4. Improve your strategy. Over time, your strategy needs refinement to stay current and align with the market. The best team achieves greatness by playing with and against the best. The best way to improve your strategy is to compete with your competitors. Doing so will put you under a lot of pressure to stay on top but you will also learn to think fast on your feet. Play with a game-like intensity in everything that you do. Be an observant player. Learn how your competitors play the game. What strategies and techniques are they effectively using that you can add to your strategic artillery? There’s a reason why they are considered pros in their industry. Research, observe, and note how they get a winning edge. Learn to apply that winning strategy on the field.
  5. Change tactics and make adjustments. Sometimes in order to stay relevant and alive in your field, you have to change your strategy. Notice how on these soccer games coaches will take out a forward, for example, and put on a more defensive or possession oriented midfielder.  While you can’t predict the twists and turns that your market brings, think in game-like patterns. Wear the mentality and the effort that you want to create to stay in the game. Walk through the scenarios and how you will handle them. What will you do, in your position, if your keeper has the ball on a goal kick? Have this type of scenario mentality and adjust your plan accordingly. Obviously you want to keep possession (in your market) and create a goal scoring chance.
  6. Stay focused. With a clear strategy in place, your team needs to stay focused on the goal. Both Spain and Italy teams were so intensely focused on the goal that they probably thought of nothing else but scoring. It kept them going no matter where they were in the competition. Like soccer, your objective is simple: keep the ball moving and put it in the net. There are a million ways for you to get from your current position to your goal. How well you do depends not only on remaining focused but also on how quickly you can assess your situation on the field, weigh your options, and choose the one most likely to achieve your goal.
  7. Have vitality. High level of energy, enthusiasm and resilience came into play during the matches. The teams were in the moment, fully engaged and feeling alive. Take for instance, Balotelli got everyone all excited when he scored his second goal during the semi. The team seemed to feel boundless energy when things were going well for them. Everyone was there in the moment with him when he showed his excitement by taking off his shirt. I’m not suggesting taking off your clothes to show your vitality. Instead, I’m suggesting that you recruit individuals with the highest possible energy, vitality, and caliber that you can get to be on your team and create an environment where they will thrive.
  8. Be a team player. It’s not about you. It takes a team to make sure they’re at their best. It’s about working together for the same goal. Map things out with your team, putting each player in their best position, where they will make a “run” and determine what they are responsible for.  Learn from the team who coexist around the game and all fired up to win it. The power of a team working as one can defeat anything and help you accomplish your goals faster and more efficiently.
  9. Think big. Look at any sport. What do they have in common? The teams want to do something big to be recognized. As with any sport, there are highlights (great moments in sport) that will be shown over and over through the years.  Their attack-minded teams created a memorable game. Whenever you market yourself, create something that will be remembered and has a lasting impression. This something can be a unique advertisement, a memorable promotion, a worthy sponsorship, a special cause, a public appearance, or any other social events.
  10. Persevere.  With the unfortunate injury to Thiago Motta and the player reduction to ten men, Italy still gave it their best.  They played aggressively throughout. Learn to take charge of the “match” to win the “game”. Don’t let one setback prevent you from reaching your goal.
  11. Know and play your role. Have all your players’ roles well-defined. Every player on the team can’t be the playmaker. Identify who in your team can make a “killer pass” and see the field like nobody else. That person can create goal scoring chances. That person can be your marketing expert, your strategic partner, your salesperson, or anyone who has the ability to see beyond the obvious, to think outside the box, and to recognize opportunities when presented. Have a goalkeeper, the one who knows how to save the day because that very person makes one vital save to keep you in the game.  With today’s technological advances, it’s crucial to understand the game is evolving. Take a look at soccer today. The player at every position is more skilled and can take on multiple roles. Your success depends on the roles that you and your team play in the market.

You don’t have to be a sport fan or a loyal spectator to learn from sport competitions. You just have to know the basics of the game to apply that logic into your own game plan. Knowledge is power. Do you employ a team sport mentality and strategy into your game plan? Did you watch any of the soccer games and want to share your takeaways?  I’d like to hear from you.

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