What Sports Can Teach Us About Motivating Teams and Executing Winning Strategies
March 09, 2023
By Fritz Spencer
The dynamics of sports and business intersected during the Florida Venture Forum Capital Conference on February 9, 2023. This intersection was discussed in the panel titled “Winning: What Sports Can Teach Us About Motivating Teams and Executing Winning Strategies.” The panelists were:
- Lindsay Shoop, Olympic gold medal rower, author and career coach;
- Greg Baty, former Miami Dolphin, venture capital investor and owner/partner of DK Wine Group;
- Kirby Porter, entrepreneur, founder of New Game Labs and former Harvard University Women’s Basketball team captain; and
- Alan Wink, managing director of capital markets, EisnerAmper (moderator).
The panel discussed numerous points, but in baseball, players only get three strikes, so this article will focus on the three key takeaways from their discussion and how those takeaways influenced their professional lives and business strategies.
A recurring theme was the importance of people knowing themselves, including their strengths, weaknesses, passions and apprehensions. Shoop said, “A lot of times we don't realize the knowledge we're dropping on other people because we take what we know for granted, thinking it's not what someone else has.” This can happen as people become accustomed to their own day to day. What is really happening is they are sharpening their axe, each day honing their skillset. Often, in a group setting that person is the expert on their subject or profession in comparison to the group and they should not be afraid to show their skills where they know they are strongest.
A good coach can identify a talent in a player and find the way to best utilize that talent: the classic “don’t put a square peg into a round hole,” as Baty put it. In business and in professional careers, people must be their own coach to assess their own skills and be honest with their own faults. When people understand where they can and cannot be most impactful, they can then turn that into effective action.
Porter made the point that while athletes must strive to reach the top, just as they must strive to be successful in business, they should not hyper-focus on any one goal. “Playing sports, you’re told ‘you’re an athlete, you have to focus on this one thing.’” However, she said having passions to chase while also being at the top of their game is how athletes can prepare themselves for post-sports life. There are times to focus on specific goals, but to only have one specific goal can blind people to other opportunities.
Know Your Game
Like with any sport, people must remain in good condition to be game ready when the whistle blows. The efforts made off the field are the efforts that show on the field. In business this is no different. To remain in good condition, people must be constantly investing in their profession and involved in its advancement. When people make the preparation to be at the cutting edge of their niche or profession, they will be prepared come game day.
The panel also discussed the human aspects of sports, especially team sports. The numbers are important, but they do not always tell the full story. When people get lost in the metrics and hung up on the data, they can lose sight of the person behind the numbers. People are not defined by their jump height or their fastest lap, and the same goes for performance in business. Looking past the paper to determine what may be best for the group, instead of a single metric or player, is ultimately the strategy for the greater good.
The panelists also discussed in their ventures the importance of building a team to eventually have a strong force to replace themselves. In certain positions, one person may be best suited for a task or position. However, when they can replace themselves with someone just as talented, it frees them to step back, get a higher-level view or focus their attention onto another project or pursuit.
While identifying talent is a key attribute for good coaches, identifying gaps in a team and filling them with the appropriate talent is an equally valuable skill. To know how all the pieces of a team come together, and when a key piece is missing, is essential to team building.
These three major takeaways, although rudimentary on the surface, carry significance. These points were stressed repeatedly throughout their discussion, driven home with impactful anecdotes from their own experiences. It’s clear that by following these strategies each of them has really hit career grand slams!