How my sporting career prepared me for business

Focus, holding your nerve, taking new approaches, keeping your eye on the target…

During my time as a budding professional rugby player, these words served as my mantra. Now, as managing director of a new home developer, they do just the same.

I’m often struck by the similarities between sporting and business worlds, some of which are brilliantly compared in Alastair Campbell’s book ‘Winners’. There are of course similarities you would expect; both are competitive environments and natural habitats for those whose greatest fear is ‘second place’.

However, the similarities go beyond competition. I learnt so many important lessons as a competitive sportsperson which I now apply every day in my business role. Here are some of the most valuable takeaways from my sporting days:

Resilience

It was always going to be number one on my list of both sporting takeaways and the values and behaviours that we set immediately at Genesis Homes.

It’s not about how you succeed, but how you fail. Resilience is the ability to pick yourself up after a fall, dust yourself off, and go again (and again).

I reflect on my own sporting resilience with both pride and missed opportunity; pride in resilience of going from being demoted to county ‘B’ team to England international in 2 years, to missed opportunity for not having the committed resilience to go that last time for the professional career break after multiple injuries.

When it comes to competitive sport, resilience is perhaps the most important quality required to succeed. Failure can be bitterly disappointing. The key is to learn from those failures and stay focused on your goals regardless. For me it was the dream of earning an England cap, when that came true it was resilience that got me there.

In business, resilience is comparably crucial. Business leaders will admit (sometimes more often than they would like) that there are periods of unpredictability and failure – targets are missed, important factors are overlooked in the strive for successes and accomplishment, or something simply happens which floors us.

When this happens, we have only two options: we go again, or we give up. Going again really is the key to success in both sport and business.

Teamwork

It’s that old cliché… there is no ‘I’ in team.

Talent is of course important, but in a sport such as rugby and a business such as construction, it will only get you so far. Even a very talented individual cannot carry a whole team.

Rugby so often provides the demonstrable team qualities required to succeed in business – communication, camaraderie, understanding, cooperation, and if you personally strive for it as I did in sport – leadership.

Teamwork also provides the platform for preparation. The best teams are prepared – that old cliché again – fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Preparation is the key to any sportsperson, to truly succeed you must practice. It was only through hours and hours of practice, endless miles and hours on the road travelling to practices and competitions, commitment at a young age to being away from the home pleasures of your mum’s cooking and computer console to stay in a rugby camp, sacrificing free time and obsessing over how I could improve my passing or kicking technique, that I was able to rise to recognition for that preparation and commitment.

The same applies to business, preparation is so important. Nothing undermines someone’s credibility more than being unprepared. Whether its chairing a day-to-day meeting with colleagues, to delivering a presentation to industry, you must be prepared.

Focus

Never take your eye off the target. Persistently and repetitiously remember the goal. The correlation of sporting determination to stay focused even after a defeat or an injury lay off, to business matters such as the loss of a key staff member or an unprepared act, the need to stay focused on the plan and goal is the same.

Whilst I was an academy player at Newcastle Falcons, we had the most memorable session with renowned sports psychologist Steve Black. Steve is recognised as an important person in the success of Jonny Wilkinson and the psychology which Jonny adopted in his sporting career. The key was visualisation. Be it the long-term goal – you visualise your goal, daily, to serve as a useful reminder of why you endeavour, to the short-term goal such as kicking the ball through the sticks and visualising it sailing through time and time again. The same applies to me now in business; that visualisation of the business plan, focusing the mind to make informed decisions and set clear priorities.

Adaptability

When you reach a certain level in sport, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking you’ve found the perfect routine. The problem with routine is that most sportspeople are innately obsessive and a change in routine can take them off guard.

The feeling of finding the perfect routine or formula can be a terrible trap to fall into. You become complacent. You take your eye off the ball, possibly quite literally! That is always the time for the new and upcoming players to make their mark.

Adaptability to the situation is paramount to ongoing and long-term success. There is always more that we can improve upon, different ways and approaches, using new equipment and discovering innovative techniques; you should never stop trying to find that new way of doing things.

This is certainly a value which has helped me in my business career to date and is a core value required of the team at Genesis Homes.

The similarities between what it takes to succeed in sport and business are remarkable. Sport or business, it all comes down to resilience, teamwork, focus and adaptability.

Nicky Gordon is Managing Director of Genesis Homes. Before starting out in business, Nicky was an accomplished rugby player, representing Cumbria and Cheshire from youth levels to open age, gaining full representative honours for North of England and England U18, and signed to professional terms with Newcastle Falcons Academy and Sale Sharks. Nicky was Cumbria Young Player of the Year 2002.