Business Lessons from Sports

Business Lessons from Sports

Amidst the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the successes and failures of the rugby teams hold many lessons that we can use in business. At the time of writing this, a few days before the final, we can say that a winning team has a lot more than just skill and a plan. There are characteristics of the winning teams that we should all aim to emulate.

Everyone counts

The winning team does not just consist of the players and reserves on the field. There are many “behind the scenes” participants who contribute to a successful sports team and who go unnoticed, for example, even the performance of the bus driver could have negative consequences on the team.

Everybody counts, and it is important that everybody feels that their contribution matters. When they feel that they are contributing, it is more likely that they will do their job to the best of their ability.

Stick to the plan

Watching the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it was noted that a few of the losing teams unsuccessfully adjusted their game plans to counteract the strength of the opposition.

When it comes to execution, design a plan that works and get your team to buy into it.  As they continue to execute the plan, it will become habitual and hopefully be executed faster and more accurately as time goes on.

Give of your best

A team is still made up of individuals, performing collectively. Everyone on the team needs to know what is expected of him/her and needs to execute that job to the best of their ability.

Everyone needs to trust that those around them will give their best as well. There will be no success if you are second-guessing the performance of your teammate.

No “I” in Team

On the field, the game is everyone’s job. In football, you often see a defender attacking, and another player dropping back to cover his defensive position. If the situation calls for it, then the players are trained to make decisions and react accordingly.

In the post-match interviews for the “Player of the Match,” you will often hear the player thanking and congratulating his teammates. Nobody in a winning team is an individual champion.

Mistakes happen

Sometimes even the best players drop the ball (great pun hey!). Great sports teams understand this, and you rarely see teammates complaining or blaming the other player. Instead, the offender apologises, the teammates pat them on the back, and everybody gets into the act of recovering from the setback.


If the strategy does not work, keep trying until you find one that does. You may find yourself out of ideas, in which case you can do what many sports teams have done, hire a specialist consultant to help. If you want to be the best, you are going to need to iron out any weaknesses to get there.

Reflect to improve

Win or lose, great teams look back at their game to see where they can improve. The strategy and execution are analysed and players are coached on their failings. Underperforming players are sometimes dropped from the team and others brought in to do the job.

Regardless of the actions taken, the aim is to improve after every game. If they are not improving, then they are going backwards. Is your competition moving forward faster than you?


Make sure it’s just a game

Every sportsperson knows that after the game, they still have lives to lead. Win or lose, they can still pick themselves up and carry on. You will often see sports personalities as analysts, coaches or speakers at events. This teaches us is that we shouldn’t leave too much “skin in the game.”

Focus on winning; but if you don’t, take your lessons and move on to the next game.  Don’t let failure eat you up and prevent you from playing again. Remember, you are not starting all over again, you are starting from experience. Use that.

Ultimately, successful teams are still made up of competent people. There are more stories of teams winning with a group of average players working together, than superstars playing alone.

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