We often use sport metaphors in our everyday vocabulary. Around a boardroom table, we easily refer to dropping the ball, levelling the playing field, below par performances or being saved by the bell. In its preparation, commitment and competition, sport has so many similarities to everyday life and the world of business, that it would be silly not to get some takeaways from the Olympic Games happening in Tokyo at the moment.
Persist. All races have obstacles. It can be a physical or mental challenge, an injury or an accident. The test is not to quit. Siffan Hassan fell in the first round of the women’s 1500 meters, got up and continued to complete and win the race, moving on to the semi-finals. (Read more) Sometimes, however, the winning is in completing the task even when it is not in the style you imagined. When heptathlon favourite Katarina Johnson-Thomson injured her calve during the 200 metres she was out of the running for a medal, but still opted to not take the wheelchair and rather shuffled the last 100 metres to finish the race. (Read more)
Have a back-up plan. South Africa had three athletes in the men’s 100 metre semi-finals, giving them an excellent chance for a medal in the 4 x 100 metre relay. When Leotlela was injured, he was replaced by Maswanganyi who was to run the second leg. Being a new man in the squad, the handover between him and Munyai who started the race for SA was disastrous seeing them colliding and putting a quick end to the team’s medal dreams. Your whole plan cannot collapse when one thing doesn’t work out. There is always a chance that someone is not available or something does not go according to plan. That can’t result in the failure of your whole operation.
Defy the odds. South Africans Laura Strugnell and Clarissa Johnston wanted to participate in the Olympic Games Artistic Swimming. They came out of retirement and started training while having full-time jobs, facing the Covid-19 challenges and having to raise the money to self-fund all their expenses. When you have the drive and commitment, you can beat the odds. Be realistic and ready to work hard and make sacrifices, but if it is important enough, you’ll find a way. Read more.
Prioritise. Simone Biles is an Olympic star and her gymnastic performances are the highlight of many a viewing programme. When she decided to withdraw from the American team’s final, there was much criticism and speculation, but she knew what was most important for her own preservation. Priorities have to be carefully considered, but when they are in place, stick to them – there is a reason why they are your priorities. Read more.
Manage expectations. Lighting the Olympic cauldron, Naomi Osaka is seen as the face of the 2020 Tokyo games. Ranking number two in the world and performing on home soil, she was also expected to win gold on the tennis court. Her elimination in the third round was a big disappointment for the host nation and of course for Naomi herself. Expectation creates enormous pressure. While I applaud reaching for the stars, it is also important to manage expectations and be realistic in setting goals. Read more.
Gracious in defeat. While this is really a last resort, sometimes we need to acknowledge that our plans are not working, that our model has failed or that a once successful approach does not work anymore. Show jumping is one of the most beautiful disciplines in the Olympic arena. Graceful horses and their seemingly effortless execution of their routines are something to behold. But equestrian sport is expensive and logistically challenging and when your horse then stalls after his first jump, refusing to continue, the disappointment must be immense. Having to retire after much effort and expense is never easy, but sometimes, graceful defeat is the only option. Even if it only means to acknowledge something is not working, that you have to rethink and change the approach.
Acknowledge your competition. After competing for two hours, Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim decided to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump. Such sportsmanship acknowledges the effort, talent and commitment of the competition. Being competitive and having a winning attitude are important, but there is nothing wrong with recognising the skills of your competition – they can even guide you in improving your own efforts. See video.
Focus. Tatjana Schoenmaker had the whole South Africa smiling when she won gold in the 200 meter breaststroke and set a new world record in the process. While she might not have been subject to the same scrutiny and expectations as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, Schoenmaker believes in giving it your best and not getting caught up in the side shows. While there will always be politics and budgets and others matters to attend too, always come back to your goal, remember your focus.