Why Playing Sports gives You an Edge in Business

By Priti Dadlani

Like most entrepreneurs, Raj Dadlani, CEO and founder of Huntech Consultants Inc. puts in long hours at work.

The company he founded 33 years ago is his baby. Mr. Dadlani not only deals with high-profile technology clients but also manages staff located in Huntech’s global offices spread across three time zones.

No matter how busy he is, there is one appointment every week that Mr. Dadlani never misses: his doubles tennis game.

Mr. Dadlani plays on a ladder with about 24 other men at his club. Aside from the fresh air (in warm months) and exercise, Mr. Dadlani likes the camaraderie among players and the fact that playing solidly for two hours lets him blow off steam.

Playing doubles also boosts his strategy, communication and teamwork skills, all of which help him to run his business, says Mr. Dadlani.

“You have to develop a strategy to your game by playing to your partner’s strengths and shoring up his shortcomings.  You also have to size up your opponents in the same way and play to their weaknesses, be it throwing more lobs or slicing/top-spinning to their backhand (because most players have a weaker backhand).”

Growing up in Africa, Cambodia and India, Mr. Dadlani always played sports – cricket,volleyball, table tennis, badminton, soccer.

People like Mr. Dadlani, who were lucky enough to play sports when they were children and have carried on with those activities in adulthood, have an edge in business and in life.

Of course, there’s the cliché about playing golf to get ahead in your career, given the networking, bonding, as well as decisions about hiring and promotions that happen on the links.

But playing a sport helps you in so many other ways to cope with the topsy-turvy business world. It helps you build mental toughness, trains you to work with others toward a common goal and teaches you how to win and lose graciously, among other things.

Writing in the Irish Independent, Ian Doherty calls sport the great equalizer.

“You find out more about yourself and the people around you from playing the game to the best of your abilities than you will in any classroom. Hide, shirk your responsibilities or let your teammates down, and they will hammer you for it. Which is how it should be – do your best and earn respect and trust, try to hide or slack off and your mates will call you out on it.

Mr. Doherty argues that kids learn more from losing than from winning though both build character.

“If you are never rejected as a kid, if you are never told that you just aren’t good enough, how are you going to be equipped to deal with those situations when you are an adult?

“We’ve all gone for jobs we didn’t get, we’ve all been reamed by bosses at some stage and anybody who says they have never been disappointed in life is simply lying. Disappointment is an everyday fact – and how you cope with that is what defines you.”

Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, a world-renowned author and thinker and one of the smartest people on the planet, speaks eloquently on this subject.

The Globe & Mail recently did a video interview with him: What sports taught Roger Martin about business.

I first met Mr. Martin in Hyderabad, India while I was writing stories for the Toronto Star and he was on a tour meeting top business leaders. Mr. Martin is one of those people you instantly like. He is warm, funny and completely down-to-earth despite his lofty achievements.

Mr. Martin calls himself a jock and a sports fan. He is on the board of Tennis Canada and has written about the NFL (National Football League). He says he finds sports interesting because it reflects the nature of competition.

“I like the degree to which sports can be a metaphor for business: If you don’t keep tweaking, nothing lasts forever, unless you tweak it and tweak it and tweak it to keep it current,” Mr. Martin told the Globe.

“I just think there are so many lessons for life from sports. Certainly the need to work hard for long periods of time, to train to be good, so it necessitates dedication.

“I think when you lose – there is just no sport in which you can win all the time – so you learn to lose, which is so important. Many business executives don’t know how to lose; they just get furious and mad when they start to lose and go into a downward spiral. I think if you are a sports person, you just say, ‘That just was not my day. He or she is better than me,’ and you learn how to lose.”

If you don’t currently play a sport, it’s never too late to start. Take lessons if you need to.

Don’t say you’re too busy. If Mr. Dadlani and Mr. Martin can make time in their hectic schedules so can you.

Do you already play a sport? How has it helped you in work and in life?


3 thoughts on “Why Playing Sports gives You an Edge in Business

  1. Excellent analogy and analysis of how sports and business can go hand-in-hand. Enjoyed reading it! Adhir

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