The Parallel Between Sports and Leadership

TASA ID: 1056

There are a lot of similarities between sports and the business world. We use a lot of sports language in our daily business interactions. We “pitch clients”, “drop the ball” when we make a mistake or miss a deadline, we “put together a game plan” for a project. In addition to sharing the same language, we can learn a great deal about leadership from sports coaches.

Being a Professional Minor League Hall of Fame Football Coach and Executive Business Coach, I would like to share five coaching techniques that I think can help us become stronger business leaders:

Your Success comes from Your Team’s Success: Sports coaches prepare their athletes for every situation and teach them the skills necessary to succeed. Athletes understand that their success depends on the direction of their coaches. Coaches also understand that their success is dependent on their team’s effort and ability to win.

In business, many people tend to ignore this idea. There’s always that one manager who takes credit for the work of their team. Good leaders know that their success in achieving their goals is a team effort. Everyone must pull in the same direction to help the company grow. Leaders who don’t acknowledge their teams’ successes are missing the opportunity to raise morale and create a collaborative work environment.

Break down new techniques and skills: When coaching a team on new techniques or skills, a coach will break it down into individual parts. Athletes then practice in layers, adding each new part until they’re proficient enough to use it in a live game.   

This same strategy applies in business. Leaders should break down tasks for employees to learn. Then give them the opportunity to practice alone or with further guidance, until they’re comfortable. Employees generally appreciate the opportunity to practice a new skill or technique before having to use it in live situations, making them more likely to use them and succeed with them.

Players learn by doing: You can teach a player a new technique all day long, but if they never try it on the field, they’ll never learn when to use it in a game situation. People learn by doing, whether you’re an athlete or an employee. Success comes from knowing how to improvise with what we’ve learned.

Business Leaders cannot do everything for employees. They have to let their employees experiment on their own. We must give employees the freedom to use what they know so they can develop confidence in their skills. They will never achieve success if they are totally dependent on the leader.

Remove the Pressure to Win: Even at the highest level, sports are supposed to be fun. Most athletes started playing sports because they enjoyed them. As they progressed to the elite levels, their sports became more stressful because they began to equate success with winning. If they are not winning, they are not successful. Yet coaches know that athletes can be successful even in a loss. Some call losses “learning events” because athletes learn something from the experience. Whether in sports or business, lasting wins happen through a gradual accumulation of teaching, learning, leading and doing/playing. It’s the pursuit of excellence that should be the mark of success, not “a win” in the standings.

As a Leader, you can remove that pressure to win by highlighting the journey to get to an objective, rather than only the achievement of it. This will help your team members progress in their next journey.

Encourage Employees to Lead: The cliché, “there is no “I” in team” accurately describes the idea of a team that collaborates and helps each other be better. In team sports, it’s vital that athletes encourage their teammates and challenge them to improve.

Successful Leaders do the same thing by providing feedback, reinforcing positive efforts and providing informal coaching to employees. Leaders cannot be everywhere and do everything. They must spread the leadership to their employees and encourage them to help their colleagues, just like athletes do.     

Sports can teach us a lot in business and help us be better business leaders. By adopting an “employees first” mentality, we can create a stronger and more collaborative organization.   

TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA Id#: 1056). Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.


Previous Article Suicide by Truck
Next Article Disaster planning: Training for the perils of weapons of mass exposure, 2020
Tasa ID1056

Theme picker


  • Let Us Find Your Expert

  • Note: This form is to be completed by legal and insurance professionals ONLY. If you are a party in a case that requires an expert witness, please have your attorney contact TASA at 800-523-2319.

Search Experts

TASA provides a variety of quality, independent experts who meet your case criteria. Search our extensive list of experts now.

Search Experts