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Out of Our Minds
Friday, September 03, 2004 10:00 AM
Jocks on the Job
Anita Sharpe on Business

The October issue of Psychology Today (on newsstands but not yet on the web) takes an interesting look at companies that use athletes and sports-inspired programs to fire up employees to sell more, work harder and, by gosh, BE CONFIDENT.

Does it work? Not particularly, concludes the author, Steve Salerno.

'Athletes walk with pride because they have specific competencies: the ability to run faster than most other humans, to return a serve that's boring in at 110 mph or to hit a 5-inch sphere over a 30-foot wall that's 400 feet away,' Salerno writes.

Among the people he interviews is Benjamin Dattner, an adjunct professor of organizational development at New York University, who notes that Tiger Woods is such a perfectionist, he makes his own bed when he travels. 'But that same focus that makes him a perfectionist might make it difficult for him to be a manager, or even be very adaptable, in a corporate environment.'


Hilleary Hoskinson - 9/8/2004 1:19:16 PM
I would not dismiss the fundamentals behind “sports' principles too quickly. While I certainly agree that the worlds of sport and business are very different, and many who love the world of sport may try to push the analogies too far.

However, there are several universal principles that are very important and effective in the world of sport and business. I have done extensive work and am building a company with Tom Mitchell, PhD, a successful executive coach, and performance counselor for an NBA franchise team. He coaches and teaches concepts like: proper preparation, developing fundamental skills, awareness of strengths, building trust in those around you, physical and mental conditioning, balance, learning to execute under pressure and without distraction, successful communication, etc. Anyone would be hard pressed to convince me that these are not valuable skills for executives, as well performance athletes.

Sure, frequent “one for the gipper' speeches or flooding meetings with athletic analogies is not appropriate, and in many cases can disenfranchise employees who have no interest in sports. However, executives and employees that are able to consistently perform at high levels certainly should be considered an asset to the organization. Any company would be smart to help keep its 'performers' well-balanced and prepared, just like athletic teams help develop players both mentally and physically. In addition, it is usually easy for me to identify business teams that walk and act with what I would call a “Winning Spirit.' These teams are motivated, confident, clear about their goals, work efficiently together, and usually find that their success is contiguous.

Business is not sports, and certainly should not be considered as such --but many of the fundamental principles of performance have powerful applications in both worlds.
Robert - 9/3/2004 4:10:01 PM
Having sat through a few speeches by coaches trying to inspire a business audience, I agree there is sometimes little practical application coming from their world. (Yeah, 'win one for the gipper,' that's gonna help me find seed money for my wireless venture.) However, someone who looked closely at the sports and business spaces has made a relevant analogy (and forgive me, as I've already mentioned this in separate comment last month). Mark McCormack, a legend in the sports marketing and management field, noted that a true athletic champion would never do what many businesspeople do, which is to fall into a routine.

Whether we work in an office or at home, many of us start and end our business days at the same time (which at-home people often do to impose some discipline), and barring any unusual travel, follow and repeat a template of behavior. A champion athlete would never wake at 5 am, practice until midnight, and repeat that regimen 365 days a year. Rather, they increase their energies around key events and tournaments, and practice less aggressively during other periods. They learn how and when to put in 100%, and when they can pull back a bit and recharge, and perhaps develop a muscle or part of their game that needs work.

I see so many business colleagues (and myself at times) treating every project, memo and meeting as though it's the Super Bowl, and wonder if they might benefit from more intelligently measuring and allocating their energies around select, high-impact projects. This process also begins a solution for another issue, which is finding time for the non-work part of our lives.


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