Championing Success: Lessons Corporations Can Learn from Athletes

  • Job Market Insights
  • Published on October 26, 2023

Managing any business is challenging, but it’s especially been the case these days, given the global upheaval of recent years.

The pandemic brought a multitude of difficulties and opportunities for organisations, as bosses strove to motivate their teams and gain a competitive advantage. The intensity of this period reminds me of my initial career in international sport.

As an international rugby team captain, change and unpredictability were constant. I diligently worked to encourage teammates to strive for the goals that resulted in tries and, hopefully, triumph.

On deeper reflection, I realise that the athletic realm offers valuable lessons for those seeking progress in the business sector. Here are four key insights:

Accomplishments is built on confidence

Before England clinched the title of European football champions this year, head coach Sarina Wiegman disclosed a pivotal factor in the team's success.

"You perform better in an environment where you're safe, where you will not be judged," Wiegman shared with The Guardian. In kind, her captain, Leah Williamson, emphasised the squad’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere where vulnerability is embraced.

This approach is grounded in care, inclusivity, and respect – foundational elements for a culture of confidence that, according to 60% of UK employees, enhances productivity and "directly affects the sense of belonging at work".


Success is the product of a tough journey

On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs secured the World Series after a 108-year wait. The "loveable losers" finally ended their prolonged championship drought, having steadily improved throughout a decisive season.

Describing how winning attitudes can yield remarkable outcomes, Professor of Economics David P. Myatt remarks:

"Sustained success can reinforce itself and lead to an upswing. This motivates players to prolong their winning streak, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same principle applies in business – we all desire to be part of a perennially successful team."


Leaders should link victories, no matter how small

This approach accelerates our ability to interpret positive experiences constructively, thereby fuelling motivation and momentum.

Demonstrating strategic perseverance at Wimbledon 2010, French player Nicolas Mahut secured 502 points against American John Isner's 478. Nonetheless, it was Isner who emerged victorious in their historic first-round encounter.

Isner triumphed where it counted most. In the business world, this translates to the ability to navigate conflicting priorities and allocate resources where they can make the most significant impact on the overall objective.

“Failure” is an integral part of progress

Numerous Olympic gold medallists view their setbacks as stepping stones on their path to the pinnacle of their sport. Similarly, "failures" in rugby prompted me to reassess the significance of my actions, enabling necessary improvements.

In the corporate realm, rebounding from perceived failures is the only way to refine strategies in the long term. This practice fosters resilience.

The instances cited above only scratch the surface of the wisdom that athletes bring with them when transitioning into business roles after their sporting careers. With time, their elite mindsets and viewpoints permeate the workplace, inspiring executives, teams, and colleagues alike.

Athlete Career Transition

Athlete Career Transition helps retired athletes to move out of sport and into second careers where they can leverage their skillsets to the full. 

Athletes stay at the top of their game, while businesses tap into the many benefits that come from having a champion on board.

Click here to find out more.