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Running Your Business Is Like Running a Sports Team

by Hal Licino  |  
February 25, 2013

When the average sports fan thinks of their favorite sport, they don’t necessarily ponder how the game relates to business. But it turns out that there are some relevant lessons to be learned from the gridiron that can apply to the business world just as well.

Here's what businesses and professional sports teams have in common.

You must have a plan. The minutes of playing time are preceded by months of crafting an in-depth and extensive playbook that incorporates the positions, motions, and reactions of each player according to a wealth of variables. You can no more operate your small business without a plan than a professional sports team can take the field in the first game of the season without a playbook.

Making it up as you go along is not a recipe for victory, only for utter defeat and humiliation. You have to take the time to devise a coherent strategy for your business to be able to take the field against your competition and, through your provision of superlative value to your engaged customer base, earn your victory.

You must rely on the coach. The players are the folks making the plays, taking the hits, and getting dirty and bloodied, but they all have to rely on the coach and his staff to not only implement the meticulously devised plan but also gain a perspective on the entire field to see the bigger picture and make the proper calls.

Democracy is a wonderful institution when it applies to governmental structures, but it completely falls apart in sports or business. The players and staff have to be directed by a leader who sees the bigger picture and is supported by a staff that provides the information and counsel required to run the team or company with the utmost efficiency.

You have to be ready to adjust instantly. For example, in football, when the offense is ready to take the snap, the quarterback will scan the defense to see what type of alignment they’re in and will often audible a change to the play. If he sees that the defense is lining up strong right, he might change up the play to a left side run or pass. That decision is made in the heat of the few seconds before the play and there is no disputing the QB’s call or setting it up for rumination by a committee. He calls it, it’s done, and if it’s right or wrong, the signal caller takes the responsibility.

In the business world, the businessperson has to be ready to make a mid-course adjustment at any time. If a problem or opportunity suddenly presents itself, the businessperson has to rely on their experience, wisdom, and knowledge of their company to make the right call and be ready to claim the rewards and accolades if they’re right (or take their lumps if they’re wrong).

Egos need to be kept in check. There is no room for overblown egos on the field or in the office. When you have a prima donna who is trying to take all the credit for everything that happens, regardless of whether they actually had anything to do with it, the best thing you can do is trade him.

Every member of the team or company has to realize that they are important but just one component of a larger machine. Everyone is important, everyone is essential, but no one is irreplaceable. The only way that any team or any small business is going to succeed is if everyone pulls together, supports each other, and does everything possible to achieve victory but only through a cohesive group effort, not through individual glory-seeking histrionics.

The goal of every team is to win a championship, and the goal of your business should be to exceed expectations and achieve the greatest possible success.

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Hal Licino is an award-winning freelancer, author, email marketing expert, and blog contributor for Benchmark Email, a leading email marketing solution.

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  • by Jerry Mon Feb 25, 2013 via blog

    Thanks Hal,

    While reading this, I could not help myself, and heard NFL Films music playing in my head.


  • by Michael O'Daniel Tue Feb 26, 2013 via blog

    You left out the most important element of all: the players. Superior coaches can sometimes win with less-than-optimum talent, but in the long run, the teams that are built to win consistently are the ones that know how to acquire and nurture top talent. "Top talent" does not necessarily mean the most skilled athletes, but those who are committed to winning, who have a concept of the game (to extend your analogy, football intelligence), and who understand their roles within the system the coach has created.

  • by Robert Andrews Tue Feb 26, 2013 via blog

    I like your analogy of business and sports because most business people refer to business as a game. You're absolutely right. The preparation, the competition, putting the right people in the right place are all elements of a team sport.

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