Say what you like about professional sports. Maybe watching athletic guys topple over each other isn’t your thing. Maybe you think sports are a cult-like sublimation of violent impulses (as my Mom does). Maybe you think corporate profits, superstar egos, and fantasy stats have undermined the purity of athletics.
Whatever your gripe may be with how sports are commoditized, hallowed, or dangerous, pro teams are some of the highest performing groups of people on the planet. Here are 8 practices you can borrow from sports that will enhance how you play the game of life:
1. Find Teammates. You Can’t Do It Alone.
This may seem obvious, but we all fall into the trap of going it alone. We think to ourselves, “We’ve got it handled,” and “I’m all good. I don’t need anyone’s help.”
In some cases, this may be true. But you’ve probably heard the proverb: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
You can sprint as much as you’d like, but be sure you’ve got someone to turn to when you get tired. Inevitably, you will slowdown. You need people who have skin in the game with you for support.
Teammates provide camaraderie, encouragement, and collaboration. You can leverage each other’s skills, perspectives, and experiences to accomplish would be too complex or overwhelming to do alone.
You’re probably already on a few teams in your life: a family team, a work team, a neighborhood team, to name few. Here are a few keys to maximize your team’s success:
- Know Your Role & Lead: Know what you’re good at. Know what you are not so good at. Find teammates that can complement and fill those gaps, and then take charge in your position. Having clear roles grants you the authority to do whatever it takes to get the job done without crossing boundaries that dimish the contributions of others. Furthermore, it allows you to effectively share work and delegate tasks that cater to everyone’s strengths.
- Put Egos Aside: You must be willing to let go of “being right” or “looking good.” This isn’t just about you. You must allow your larger mission to take precedence, and by doing so, you can participate in something larger than yourself. Focusing on the bigger goal will be far more rewarding than whatever pleasure you get from coddling your vulnerable sense of self. Trust me…
- Trust: You need to trust that your teammates are capable of rising to the challenges that you will face. When you are confident that your teammates have you covered, you can let go of worrying or micromanaging and relax into what you do best. Trust is not easy to build. It requires a culture of respect and care. When you create a team environment that is safe for everyone to show their true colors, you can enjoy the process of co-creating together.
2. Find a Coach. Perhaps Many Coaches, With Different Specialties.
No great team (or any team for that matter) can exist without a coach. Coaches help you focus your energy on what matters the most. They give you a pep talk when you’re down, a hi-five when you’re up, and most importantly, they give you honest feedback about how you’re getting in your own way and what to do about it.
Every really successful person I’ve ever met has a coach. Some have an entire personal board of directors: a health coach for their body, a business coach for their career, a marriage coach for their relationships, a trusted spiritual advisor, etc.
You don’t necessarily need to go out and hire a professional for every aspect of your life, but you do need someone who knows the territory better than you. Ask this person for guidance and mentorship. Recruit them to stand in your corner when you’re entering the ring for a big fight.
3. Take an Off-season.
Do you feel like you’re always on the go? Do you have little time to rest and assess how you’re doing?
If so, you need an off-season. You need to focus on recovery and restoring balance to your life.
Teams understand that non-stop games, practices, and travel are exhausting. Players and personnel know that season play requires some sacrifice of time and energy spent elsewhere. But too much grinding away for too long and your body will start to crumble, your mind will become dull, and your performance will drop. This is why every in-season push is balanced by an off-season break.
The off-season is about deliberately leveraging time off to enhance your time on. It helps you recuperate physically and mentally. It helps you assess what is working well and what needs improvement. And if you have the time and guidance (see point #2 about coaches), it helps you develop the skills and attributes to play on an even higher level when you get back in the game.
The question is how often do you take an “off-season” in your life?
Do you have a predetermined time of year to step back and reflect on the bigger picture of where your life is going?
Most of us don’t.
Because it seems like a privilege only the rich can afford.
However, it doesn’t take a month on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean to have an off-season. In fact, you could have an off-season nearly anywhere. It’s a pretty simple formula:
- Rest – give your body and some TLC
- Assess – ask yourself whether you’re on the right track
- Explore – do things you haven’t had time for but have interest in learning more
- Plan – set some realistic goals and action steps to further your growth and development
To reap the benefits of an off-season, you must do more than put aside your normal roles and responsibilities. It’s not just about having a relaxing weekend. It is about working on your life and your business; not just in them. You need to take time to plan how you’re going to achieve your personal and professional goals; otherwise, you’re never likely to achieve to them. A properly used off-season can payback huge returns when you get back in the game.
4. Use Timeouts.
A companion to the “off-season,” timeouts are strategic pauses in the middle of your day. These mindful moments allow you to zoom out, gather your energy, and decide what really matters right now.
Check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need at the moment?
Use the traffic light system. Are you a green, yellow, or red?
- Green light: All is good, ready jump back in the game
- Yellow light: Might need a few minutes on the sideline to hydrate and breathe. Stretch and smile.
- Red light: Something is off. Time for a new gameplan
Every team knows that opportunities to pause the game-clock are invaluable. They can help you figure out what’s most important to do next rather than being sucked away by the momentum of the game. Sometimes a well-timed pause is just enough to avert disaster and shift momentum when things are not going your way.
More so, little pauses make the game much more enjoyable when you step back on the court. So, if you’re not taking timeouts, you’re running towards burnout.
Build them into your day as a morning ritual, meditation, or a quiet walk. The best part is you can get more than 3 per day!
5. Know Your Record.
Sports can be unforgiving. Your errors and fouls will be counted. Your team will be labeled either a winner or a loser. You will know exactly where you stand relative to other teams in your league. There’s very little ambiguity about how you’re doing.
However harsh these metrics and rankings might be, they are also a blessing in disguise. Knowing your record and stats can tell you exactly what to work on.
Dropped a few balls last game? Time to work on your ball handling.
Missed a few opportunities to pass to teammates? Time to work on delegation and collaboration.
In life, every day is like a new game, yet you probably have no idea what your record is. Was yesterday a win or a loss? Did you commit a flagrant penalty or provide multiple assists? How are you doing relative to last season?
You’re typically only aware when you have huge successes or massive failures. Everything else gets shuffled away into vague memories and feelings of being ok, pretty good, normal, just fine. Each day passes without clear metrics; therefore, you have little guidance on how to improve. The result is getting stuck doing pretty much the same thing over and over because you have no idea where you stand.
The solution is to track what you want to improve. Measure it, record it, write it down. There a numerous apps that can help with this process, but a good old fashion journal and spreadsheet can do the trick. You need some documentation of the successes, failures, efforts, and aspirations so you can see where you stand relative to last season.
6. You Need Lots and Lots of Deliberate Practice.
Consider the amount of time professional athletes spend practicing versus performing.
Now consider the amount of time you spend in your life practicing verses performing?
How much of your week are you spending getting better at what you do verses just doing it?
Probably less than you’d like.
Unfortunately, most jobs don’t incorporate practice time into your billable hours. You’re just expected to show up and perform. You’ll learn as you go.
Imagine if pro teams never practiced. Would they be great? No. Teams spend countless hours drilling the essentials to operate at a high level. You need to do the same. Not just in work, but in all domains of life.
How much time have you deliberately practiced being better in your relationships? In your health? In your finances? You may read a book or listen to a podcast about these topics. But passively consuming information is not the same as practicing it.
Deliberate practice is intentional. It requires full focus, effort, and feedback from others. It differs from mindless repetition in that it has these elements:
- Put in the work. (Most of us stop here)
- Have clear performance metrics about the work. (Point #4 about knowing your standings and record)
- Reflect on the work and get effective feedback (Point #1&2 about teammates and coaches)
- Incorporate your learning and insights into your next attempt
- Repeat again and again until you’ve refined what you do to a point of greater competency
7. You Need to be Working Towards Something Big, Really Big.
The Super Bowl champion. The World Series winner. An Olympic gold medal.
What do all of these have in common besides the incredible pride of hoisting a championship trophy in the air?
They are superlative. Only one team can win. For that moment, you can proclaim that you’re the best in the world.
Deep down, we all want to be the best at something. The beauty is that we can.
You just need to define your best, your championship game that expresses your unique gifts. You need a vision compelling enough to motivate you to show up every day and work hard. Teams all share the same vision of winning a title. They know where they are headed and see the path that will get them to the ultimate objective. This vision and direction is key to building confidence in the mission.
It won’t be easy. That’s the point. What is difficult to obtain is the most valuable.
Yet you can see that others have walked this path and it is possible. The hard work will be incredibly worthwhile.
Your championship game symbolizes every previous step in this journey—the culmination of excellent teamwork, wise coaching, skillful timeouts, appropriate metrics, deliberate practice, and a little bit of magic.
8. That Really Big Thing Will Go Away…And That’s OK.
Championship titles are superlative, but they’re also temporary. There will be a new champion next year. And that is OK. That is how the game works. No team stays on top forever. If they did, there would be no fun in playing.
This is a lesson in learning to savor your victories, celebrate your accomplishments, and then let them go. Others need a chance to compete.
After all, it’s not the title or trophy that really matters. It’s all the gameplay leading up to that championship that is really rewarding–the moments of euphoria, of frustration, of exhaustion, of enthusiasm, of surprise, and of accomplishment.
The game must go on. There will be another season. Do you want to fight for the same title or are you ready to redefine that big thing that keeps you burning with enthusiasm and wanting to play another day?
~ Jeff Siegel