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Lessons from Giannis & Other Sports Greats


Giannis Antetokounmpo’s “There is no failure in sports” speech has blanketed news feeds like a fresh snowfall. It’s stunning, inescapable, eliciting glee from everyone that sees it, whether they follow sports or not.

You know the words by now. When Giannis was asked if he considered this past year a failure after his team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs, he remarked: “[When] you work toward a goal, it’s not a failure. It’s steps to success.” A glorious message, for sure. What makes it so relevant right now? 

To answer that, we need to zoom out to what’s going on in the world. There is debilitating instability and uncertainty. About layoffs and the economy. People that we never thought would be wanting for a job are suddenly unemployed. Companies that posted quarter after quarter of growth are contracting. When only a year ago there seemed to be no limits on jobs or opportunity, this has been a violent freefall. And we don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet. It leaves many feeling disheartened and insecure, like “What if we do our best and it still doesn’t work?” 

In short, we’re hungry for stories of resilience. To those feeling defeated, Giannis’ speech is both a salve and a promise. Today didn’t go like we hoped. But we’re stronger for putting in the work. 

Or, as Jason Gay writes for the WSJ: “Failures can be abrupt and sudden, but successes are incremental, their gestation and development often hidden from sight. As a zillion self-help books have lectured us, success is often born from our lowest moments.”

This got me thinking: What other important life lessons can we glean from sports? 

I didn’t have to look very far. Lately our recruiting firm has been working on several sales roles, and we’ve noticed that many salespeople come from competitive sports backgrounds. Why is that? Is it because they’re motivated by the scoreboard, to keep posting wins? Or because they have the discipline to follow a plan and see critique as a way to improve their game? As one candidate put it to me: “[As with sports], there’s a lot of despair in sales. You’ve got to have a strong self-belief that you can succeed.”

Practice going first

Gabby Reece tells us she always says “I’ll go first. If I’m checking out at the store I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across someone making eye-contact I’ll smile first. Not all times, but most times — it comes in your favor.”

Going first allows you to take initiative in your own life and show up intentionally. It allows you to set the tone and decide how you want to approach life and meet others, instead of letting external factors decide how you feel.

From Gabby Reece in Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Become open to constructive criticism

It’s important to be coachable. Athletes are trained to listen to, learn from and apply the lessons they learn from their coaches. In business, your capacity for receiving and implementing constructive feedback can make you a better co-worker and enable you to surpass obstacles.

Because of this, it’s important that you ask for feedback. The more you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, the more coachable you are. 

From Five Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes by Lisa Richards in Forbes

Constantly reinvent yourself

“Many people say I’m the best women’s soccer player in the world. I don’t think so. And because of that, someday I just might be.” — Mia Hamm

It might seem like the greatest athletes just keep doing the same thing they’ve always done to stay great, but that’s false. They are constantly looking to reinvent themselves to always stay one step ahead of the competition.

No athlete plays the same way for 10 years. Their bodies change. Their speeds change. The game changes. Meanwhile, opponents look for ways to neutralize their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. That’s why they have to constantly revolutionize themselves otherwise they’ll fade away.

Yet many people get comfortable and stuck in their ways. Everything comes “natural” to them, they get some success, and then they rest on their laurels—but that’s a recipe for disaster. The greatest athletes in any sport, however, know that their success doesn’t come naturally. It only comes through hard work and insane preparation.

Comfort kills. To become your best, you need to continually do what’s uncomfortable. Continually learn new things. Continually challenge yourself. That’s how the “great” stay great.

From The 10 Greatest Life Lessons I’ve Ever Learned From the Greatest Athletes by Anthony J. Yeung on Medium

Develop an unwavering focus

Athletes give up a lot to be competitive. If you are easily distracted, you will never achieve great results and success. You need to have discipline and focus. The same is true in business. Each morning, I write down my goals for the day and don’t give myself a break (or take a fun phone call) until they are done. You don’t want anything or anybody in your life who distracts you from chasing after your dreams.

From Five Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes by Lisa Richards in Forbes

You might only get one shot so be prepared

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” — Bobby Unser

On September 23, 2001, an NFL quarterback named Drew Bledsoe was injured during a game and replaced by a young player named Tom Brady.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Tom became a six-time Super Bowl winner and will go down as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Yet before he ever took the field, he knew he might only get one shot — so he prepared his entire career for that moment.

When I was struggling with my career and working my ass off, I kept telling myself all I needed was one shot — all I needed was one person to give me a chance and I’d show them it’ll be the best decision they ever make. Fortunately, I got that opportunity in 2013 and I’ve been making the most of my shots ever since.

If you’re struggling right now, just remember that you’ll get your opportunities. But… you’ll never know when they’ll come or when they’ll come again. That’s why you need to prepare for your moment now so when it arrives, you can step in and dominate.

Because it’s what you do with your chances that makes all the difference in life.

From The 10 Greatest Life Lessons I’ve Ever Learned From the Greatest Athletes by Anthony J. Yeung on Medium


If you liked this topic, you also might enjoy this oldie but goodie from our blog about lessons from my first triathlon.  

Do you have a message or mantra that’s served you well in sports, work or life? Go first and share it here. It will help us mind our own careers and inspire others.

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