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12 Things That Sporting Endeavour Can Teach Us About How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur

The Captain's Blog



Ever wondered what character traits are common to success in sport and entrepreneurship? We came up with a dozen - take a look and see if you agree...



So you want to be a success, huh?

You’ve got to ask yourself a question

‘do I feel lucky?’

Well, do ya, punk?


Luck may have a role to play in your route to success, but you probably shouldn’t rely on it too much

So what should you rely on?

Is it the responsibility of others to make you successful, or would it be better to put more faith in yourself?

Sure, we all know the answer to that, but why should you trust in yourself?

What is it about you that is worth believing in?


Let’s take a long hard look in the mirror and find out…



I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the great 2014 summer of sport

There’s lots going on and I’m sure there’ll be something for everyone:

  • The Football World Cup in Rio
  • The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships
  • The Tour de France Cycling (which is, er, not in France…)
  • The Commonwealth Games
  • The World Rock-Paper-Scissors Championships in Bishop’s Stortford…


As a youngster (a long, long, LONG time ago) I was a bit of an athlete, playing for my County for many years in my chosen sport - I also had the great honour of representing my Country briefly at International level

Now that I’m trying to make my way as an entrepreneur I wondered what character traits successful sportspeople have that are transferable to entrepreneurship


I came up with a dozen life-skills that I reckon are pretty important for both sporting excellence and success in business - take a look and see if you agree…


*Tip - if you want to cheat and have a look at all 12 life-skills, there's a handy infographic half-way down the post*


1. Independence

When I first began showing sporting promise I was given a coach. And then another and another…

One thing that stood out for me was that the different coaches often gave conflicting advice and I soon realised that I had to make my own decisions

Sure, I would listen to all of the advice given to me and I’d try out all of their suggestions but ultimately the final decision was mine and I would rise or fall by those decisions


Learning to be independent and make my own decisions was one of the most valuable skills I learnt as a youngster and has stayed with me ever since

I’m comfortable with making decisions and I don’t agonise over them. I decide and move on. If I’m wrong then I hold my hand up and take responsibility


Making difficult decisions is not for everyone - it can be stressful, but the more comfortable you are with it the more likely you are to cope with the pressure and make the right choices

There’s a saying in business that ‘you’re only 3 bad choices away from oblivion’ - I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but it highlights the importance of being comfortable with independent decision-making


2. Responsibility

That brings me right on to the next point - the ability to take responsibility

If you’re always looking for someone (or something) else to blame then how can you improve what you’re doing or make things right when they go wrong?

Always having a ready excuse or pointing an accusing finger leads others to lose confidence in your abilities as a leader. This is one of the reasons why a heck of a lot of business is done on the golf course - you can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they conduct themselves when they have a mashie-niblick in their hand…

  • That bad bounce on the 18th fairway cost me the match
    • Oh really? And what about that bad bounce your opponent had on the 17th - did he moan about it or stage a recovery?
  • I played great but my partner had a stinker and we lost by one shot
    • Yup - that’s how to inspire your partner to play better next time, isn’t it?!!?


Take responsibility for your decisions, actions and the consequences

You will get a bucket-load of respect in return and you’ll be able to fix problems sooner than if you stand around looking for someone else to blame


3. Confidence

I suppose confidence should really be at number 1 because it underpins the ability to make independent decisions and take responsibility for their consequences


Self-confidence is knowing that you are equal to the task at hand and is often the result of repeated success in previous attempts - you know you can be successful because you’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt

But beware of over-confidence. A higher opinion of yourself or your ability than is found in reality is often seen as arrogance by others and you will often find yourself falling at the final hurdle - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory


Just ask any England footballer if he wants to take one of the penalties in the World Cup Semi-Final in Rio next month…


For those of you that don’t know, England has a 17% penalty shoot-out success rate in major championships, and despite having had some good footballers over the years they have often been seen as being over-paid and arrogant. Most of the time they swaggered like champions, but when it came to the crunch, they invariably crumbled


They failed dismally...



Confidence based on past successes is a good character trait to have in your arsenal but should be balanced with a little humility if others are to believe in your abilities


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4. Persistence

If confidence underpins independent decision-making and responsibility, then persistence surely underpins confidence

A well-founded confidence has its roots in the old saying ‘practice makes perfect’, and this is equally true in business as in sport


Sportsmen and women use practice drills to improve their performance and build their confidence

After training, England rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson (who retired earlier this year) would keep practicing goal kicks until he successfully kicked 50 in a row. If he missed on the 49th kick, he would start again at 1

As a sportsman this is VERY familiar to me, and I’m sure it is to most other dedicated sportspeople. And the same practices occur in business


The more decisions you make the more comfortable and confident you feel about making them. The more times you go through a process the easier that process becomes


Seth Godin is often heard saying that you should ‘fail fast and fail often’, and while I don’t particularly subscribe to that way of thinking it fits nicely into the character trait of persistence

Persistence is the ability to pick yourself up and go again no matter how many times you’ve failed before


5. Ambition

If you’re persistent then you’ve every chance of success. But success at what? You need to have a goal to strive for and the ambition to reach that goal


Ambition comes in all shapes and sizes. I recall playing in a national competition some years ago and talking to a friend about what our ambitions were for this tournament given the standard of the opposition

Whilst mine were to reach at least the semi-finals his was to ‘get out of the box’ - in other words, to not lose in the first round

In several attempts he had never managed to get further than the first round in this tournament, but his commitment to fulfilling his ambition was no less than mine and he bust a gut trying to get there


It shows the importance of having ambitions that are founded in reality

There’s little point in taking up tennis at the age of 40 and declaring that before you retire you’re going to win Wimbledon. It just ain’t gonna happen sunbeam


Similarly for my company, Chi-Squared Innovations, we have global ambitions and have a plan to be the best at what we do within the next 3-5 years

It’ll be tough, but it’s a realistic goal

What we’re not saying is that we’re gonna be the next Google…


6. Competitive

My mate Kev had ambitions to ‘get out of the box’, and that was a realistic goal for the time and place

It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t competitive or didn’t train hard enough, just that there were others with greater ability

But sporting endeavour is often about finding a chink in your opponent’s armour and exploiting the snot out of it


Whatever you’re doing in life you’ll ALWAYS find someone that does it better than you, but you can succeed over those with greater ability by being more persistent about trying to find that competitive edge that can help you overcome

Bigger companies that have been around for decades may have grown complacent, and in any case aren’t able to change direction quickly

As a start-up company that’s your competitive edge


Be energetic and enthusiastic, find a niche and exploit the crap out of it

By the time the behemoth companies have noticed what you’re doing it’ll be too late - you’ve already made your mark


Infographic: 12 Essential Character Traits Common to Sport and Business


7. Creativity

And that’s where creativity comes in. Finding a way to be competitive when the odds are stacked against you takes real creativity


Take the example of Bob Bowman. You might not have heard of him, but he was the swimming coach of the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, from the age of 8 and throughout his career

He taught Phelps that to perform under pressure takes the right attitude

He would regularly:

  • Rearrange training times at the last minute
  • Cancel the transport that took him home
  • Hide his water bottle so that he would have to swim thirsty
  • Tread on his goggles before a race so that he would have to swim without them 


Bowman wanted to see how Phelps responded to these events, and encouraged him to focus on:

WIN - ‘What’s Important Now?’


Phelps realised that the only thing he could control was his reaction


In the final of the 200 metres butterfly at the 2008 Olympic Games, Phelps’ goggles filled up with water at the beginning of the race

His reaction was to focus even more on his stroke rather than on the race and he won in a World Record time


Michael Phelps wasn’t the creative one in this story. Bob Bowman was

He found creative ways of making Phelps realise that his attitude would determine how successful he could be


So how do you encourage creativity in business? It seems to me that the more restricted your resources are, the more likely you will be to find a creative way to solve your problems

Should you go out of your way to restrict the resources of your employees in the way that Bowman did with Phelps?

I know some that do and have gained huge rewards for it


8. Self Control

What Bowman taught Phelps was the art of self control

You can’t control the outside world, so learn to control yourself and modify your attitude so that whatever the world throws at you, you can handle it


Non-sportspeople think that self control in sport is all about controlling the body to make that killer Federer-like passing shot time after time

It is, but will it all break down when the pressure is on?


The difference in making the shot at the beginning of the match and at squeaky-bum time at the end all comes down to attitude

Phelps has it. Federer has it. All the sporting greats have it, and if you want to succeed in business you’re gonna need it too


You can’t control what your competitors or customers do or control economic or political factors, but you can sure as hell control how you react to them


It was Rudyard Kipling that said:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Impostors just the same;

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it


Amen to that…


9. Focus

For me, Bob Bowman’s phrase ‘What’s Important Now?’ is incomplete. For Phelps in the Olympic final, the phrase should be:

What’s Important Now?

The Stroke

OK, Focus on That Then


Question - Answer - Response


The most important of these is the response

You’ve identified the problem, formulated the solution and you now need to focus on turning the solution into reality


Without that focus on his stroke Phelps would have likely lost the race

When Joyce Wethered sank the putt to win the English Ladies’ Golf Championship in 1920 on the 17 green of Sheringham Golf Club in Norfolk, she was asked afterwards how she could make the putt with the distraction of the train

They subsequently named the hole after her response - “What Train?”


Similarly in business you’ll be bombarded with problems from day one, and too many people recognise the problem but then sit on their hands and do nothing about it until it’s too late


So recognise the problemformulate the solution and then act on it, giving it all the focus that it deserves


Come on guys! Focus! Focus! Focus!


10. Foresight

What are you focusing on?

Phelps and Wethered had all the technique they needed and they focused on making it perfect

For Phelps it was focusing on getting the perfect head position, maintaining the maximum reach, getting the perfect pull and maximising the after-stroke

For Wethered it was visualising the perfect line and length of the putt to take the ball from the head of the putter to the bottom of the cup and maximising the technique to make it happen

These may seem like short-term objectives, but both Phelps and Wethered had practiced these for years. They had foresight. They knew that perfect technique and temperament would make them champions and they worked like crazy to achieve their goals


Same as in business

So what are your goals?

What do you need to make them a reality?

Can a political event derail them? OK, you can’t control it, but you can control your response, and if you’ve had the foresight to integrate alternatives into your plans then it won’t take you by surprise

Allaying foresight with good attitude and great focus is an amazing combination that will see you go far


11. Optimism

The ability to believe that everything will work out OK in the end

Eventually I will prevail


Do you believe in the no-win scenario?

James Kirk didn’t, so he found a way to beat the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru test. This is probably the best example of optimism run wild - ‘I don’t believe in the no-win scenario so I’ll engineer a win in whatever way I can’


It’s more than optimism, it’s confidence, foresight, persistence, in fact everything on this list, but if you don’t have optimism and you don’t believe that everything will turn out just tickety-boo, then why are you fighting?

Optimism gives you the belief that there is a way to win, you just have to look hard enough to find it


When you recruit, make sure your employees understand that you don’t believe in the no-win scenario

Live it, breathe it and maybe enough of it will rub off on them. Then your entire company can live it and breathe it…

In case you were wondering where the sporting analogies went, Kirk either kissed or fought pretty much everyone he met, so I guess you can put this in the sporting category of ‘inter-galactic romantic pugilism’


12. Passion

“Running isn't a sport for pretty boys… It’s about the sweat in your hair and the blisters on your feet. It’s the frozen spit on your chin and the nausea in your gut. It’s about throbbing calves and cramps at midnight that are strong enough to wake the dead. It’s about getting out the door and running when the rest of the world is only dreaming about having the passion that you need to live each and every day with. It’s about being on a lonely road and running like a champion even when there’s not a single soul in sight to cheer you on. Running is all about having the desire to train and persevere until every fiber in your legs, mind, and heart is turned to steel. And when you've finally forged hard enough, you will have become the best runner you can be. And that’s all that you can ask for”

This is a quotation from Paul Maurer’s book ‘The Gift - A Runner’s Story’


Do you recognise the passion in there?

Do you have it?

Do your employees have it?

Do you think you can be successful without it?


If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then STOP RIGHT NOW !!!

Find something else to do

Life is just too damn short to be doing something that you don’t really want to do


So if you want to be a successful entrepreneur - take a long hard look in the mirror

Do you have what it takes?

Do you have all 12 of these character traits?

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Your hopes and dreams?


By taking a long hard look at yourself, maybe, just maybe you’ll find out something about yourself that you’ll need along the way…



Lee Baker - CEO Chi-Squared Innovations

Lee Baker

CEO & Co-Founder

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About the Author

Lee Baker is an award-winning software creator with a passion for turning data into a story.

A proud Yorkshireman, he now lives by the sparkling shores of the East Coast of Scotland. Physicist, statistician and programmer, child of the flower-power psychedelic ‘60s, it’s amazing he turned out so normal!

Turning his back on a promising academic career to do something more satisfying, as the CEO and co-founder of he now works double the hours for half the pay and 10 times the stress - but 100 times the fun!

He also wanted to be rich, famous and good looking. Ah well.



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