Sports are big business, so it makes sense that businesses can learn much from the world of sports. From the corporate room to the locker room, sport leaders have to overcome the same challenges and utilize the same skills as many entrepreneurs.
So no matter if you are trying to build a new team, facing stiff competition, or facing ongoing setbacks, you often can find guidance and wisdom from people in the tough-and-tumble world of professional and elite-level sports. These are some of my favorite books from sport gurus who have shown me what it takes to compete, succeed, and win.
1. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis.
The story about how cash strapped Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane relied on deep stats and analytics to compete against the big payroll teams is well known. It’s been argued that Beane didn’t revolutionize how baseball is run, but he recognized that to survive in a small market, he needed to change his thinking and challenge the status quo.
Beane questioned how things were always done and looked at different angles until he found something that worked for his unique situation. And then he wasn’t afraid to try it. This is a lesson every business person always needs to hear–we can never get comfortable in our businesses because there will always be competition from new technology, new competitors, and new market dynamics.
2. The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker.
What do the greatest sports teams of all time have in common? Walker set out to explore that question with in-depth profiles of 16 of the top sports teams, from the Boston Celtics’ 1956-69 dynasty to the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup champions to the Collingwood Magpies from 1920s Australian rules football.
His interviews revealed several shared traits, such as extreme focus during tough competition, when to lead from behind, and how to regulate emotions, to name but a few. Just like businesses, every sports team has unique challenges and goals. However, the teams that stand apart are experts at recognizing what they need and implementing the right strategies. For me, I learned about the power of saying “no,” so I don’t overextend myself and can keep my eyes focused on a specific goal.
3. They Call Me Coach by John Wooden with Jack Tobin.
John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach who won 10 national championships over a 12-year period, wrote many books about leadership and success. His code was simple: preparation, work ethic, and integrity. But in this book, Wooden digs deeper into his coaching philosophy and how he built his “Pyramid of Success,” which he used to mold new talent year after year and keep his players motivated.
There are times when you have to be a teacher and mentor and instill your approach to business in others. Something I learned here was the importance of being an active listener, which in turn helps you become a better leader. If you preach, rather than mentor, people will not rise to be their best selves.
4. Playbook for Success: A Hall of Famer’s Business Tactics for Teamwork and Leadership by Nancy Lieberman.
This book is for women looking for the tools they need to compete and win in the game of business. Lieberman has blazed a trail through the ranks of professional basketball, first with the WNBA (as a player and coach), and eventually the NBA, where she became the first female head coach in the NBA’s Development League before landing her current job as assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings.
Lieberman’s secret for success? She created (and stuck with) her own playbook for success. She fine-tuned the sports-related skills she learned from basketball that women also need in business, such as creating a champion’s mindset, recognizing your strengths and weakness, and the power of teamwork.
In my experience, a lack of self-confidence can often get in the way of success for many women as they grow their careers. To overcome this, it’s important to have the courage to put ourselves out there, believe in our capabilities, and go for what we want. I found that Lieberman’s lesson to build a champion mindset is a great mantra to repeat in your head at times when you need it most.
Inspiration comes from all sources, and sports can be a rich source for learning how to overcome the everyday obstacles we all face. After all, the ultimate goal in sports is trying to outperform the competition by improving your skills with teamwork and developing a strong work ethic, which is what all entrepreneurs strive for.