This is what real pressure looks like.....

What lessons can business learn from sport?  This is a topic we have been pondering on, in preparation for an upcoming talk to a women in management group.

Well, there are of course many – one of the most recent assertions on this came from Nigel Wray, Chairman of Saracens RUFC, who was quoted in the Times as saying: ““I personally believe that business has so much to learn from team sport. Not the other way round,” We could just have easily included quotes from the likes of Sir David Brailsford, Sir Clive Woodward, and so the list goes on.  Issues such as teamwork, measuring impacts, meeting targets, dealing with different sets of stakeholders, marginal gains, building emotional intelligence within a team….…..all of these are incredibly relevant.


However, if we had to pick out one key factor that is so significant in sport, and which distinguishes it in large part from business and other industries, it would be the need, and the ability, to perform under pressure.

Imagine you are a 100m sprinter.  All that training, all that preparation, coming down to a 10 second race.  Even less if you are a pusher in bobsleigh – then it comes down to about 6 seconds of performance. 

Even for those sports for whom the actual event takes longer, selection often comes down to how well you perform in a battery of tests on a given day or in a given selection period, all timed, recorded and measured. 

Let’s take a sport like football – yes the season is long, but within any given season there will be ‘pinch points’ and key matches, and players strive to perform at their peak in these high pressured matches.

So what?

You might say, “So what?”  Why is this relevant for business and other industries?  Well, one of the things we spend our time doing at Sport and Beyond is helping athletes think about their transferable skills: you would be amazed how many athletes take some of their exceptional skills for granted.  And ability to perform under extreme pressure is one of them.  Athletes generally have a very good understanding and awareness of how to cope with the pressure, what works for them, what motivates them, what enhances their ability to perform in these kinds of situations.  How they can manage their emotions in order to maximise their performance.

Why is this such a good transferrable skill?  Because not only do they have the knowledge of how to perform under pressure, they also have a vast amount of experience on the ground of putting this into practice.

How many of you reading this really know how you would cope if all the work you had done, in your ‘normal’ job, over the last 12 months, came down to a 10 second race, or a half day set of physiological tests? How many of you have had countless opportunities to test your assumptions? Now imagine you’re a world class athlete, who has been put under this pressure numerous times.  Quite a useful skill, no? And also something that could help enhance performance in the workplace? We think so.

How many jobs and industries can you think of where the ability to know how you perform under pressure, to control your emotions to ensure that you maximise your performance, is important? What about surgeons? Or traders? Or the constant decision-making under pressure that our Prime Minister has to carry out.   Does it equate to the pressure in sport, or is it different? Let us know your thoughts……