I was nearly dead of exhaustion a moment ago. But when I heard the chair umpire call out ‘Deuce’, every muscle and sinew in my body went taut again. Yes, I have a chance now! I somehow find some new reserve of resolve I did not know I had and played the next point with rapt attention. And oh my god, did I just win the match? Suddenly the heat, the harsh sun, the streaming sweat, the aches, the sprains, completely mind-numbing exhaustion – all give way to one primal feeling of glory. I feel great! So are we playing tomorrow again or would you like a rest day, asks my coach. I smile and say, “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow morning!”
I am reliving the memory as I close the office door for the day – unusually late today. My colleague asks me if I would like to cancel the morning meeting and maybe come in late the next day. I smile and say “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow morning!” and then it hits me – what playing sports has done to the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
In India, where not too many girls and women get to play active sports, I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family and environment that helped me dabble in various sports – right from the simple backyard games of tag, hopscotch, to more organised sports such as badminton, table tennis, cricket, cycling, swimming, trekking, tennis, and karate. While growing up, I was always a bookworm and did not have a natural inclination towards sports.
But there was an active mother who not only played sports herself (in the 1980s!), but also kept nudging me towards sports until I gave up complaining about my lack of athletic ability and started enjoying playing. I wish more parents would set that example for the next generation of digital natives today! Anyway, later in life I got busy with being a mother myself and took a long career break.
The break gave me a chance to go back to playing sports. Today, I strongly advocate playing active sports because it teaches you so much about life and work! (See also how sports like tennis and football inspire leaders and entrepreneurs.)
What did sports teach me about being an entrepreneur?
Just do it!
You can spend hours watching video tutorials on perfecting your backstroke and butterfly stroke, leading to absolutely nothing until you actually jump in the water, and start moving your arms and legs. Dive a little deeper, taste the water through your nose and then your legs automatically start kicking harder!
Hit it hard!
There is all that science and math of the dimensions of the tennis court, and the radius till the boundary line of the cricket field. Try remembering the numbers every time a ball approaches you and the subsequent darkness when the ball knocks you out cold! The only way to play in the beginning is to give a whole-hearted full-bodied whack! It is when you hit hard initially that you realise the lengths and heights you are capable of reaching.
Place it well
Is that space towards the back corner on the left side of the badminton court looking empty? An elegant flick of the wrist to put the shuttle right there! Ah, the joys of marketing communication well placed!
Build your fitness
You don’t want to get injured with every misstep and ankle twist and be out of action for weeks. Build your muscle, improve the flexibility, and nourish yourself well to be able to withstand a few knocks and falls without getting seriously hurt.
Find the right coach
You cannot assess and improve your game all by yourself – even if you are Roger Federer! So for lesser mortals like us, a right coach can make all the difference by observing and coaching us on doing better. Find that coach and mentor who can help you perform and keep you going on the right track.
Talk to your team
Who has ever won a cricket or football match without going into a team huddle? One player can hardly make a winning difference, it is the team that works together and emerges victorious. Talk to your team, strategise in tandem, let each one play to his/her strength and don’t forget to celebrate together!
Don’t lose heart
A game is not lost until the last point. Don’t give up midway. Keep going. Think of marathoners who run in short sprints at times and cool down a bit in stretches, but do not give up!
Agile movements and sharp reflexes save many a point in racquet sports and help catches win matches in cricket! As a startup, your responsiveness and speed of action is your biggest advantage in fighting as David against your Goliath.
While playing tennis, you cannot always consciously calculate the wind speed, the ground moisture, the condition of the clay, and how the ball will bounce or deflect. But you develop the ability to judge and quickly absorb the conditions looking at the first few tries. Then you get into an aggressive mode knowing exactly how to return each shot and score every time! Be aware and observant of the business environment, and make it an integral part of your business decision-making process.
Scared of diving into the deep end of the swimming pool? Don’t know how the waves will behave while surfing? Afraid of dropping a catch? Nervous about missing a crucial shot in doubles? Guess what, it doesn’t help! What helps is just going for it and being prepared to learn on the job. During the match, you will figure out a weakness of your opponent, or that the waves are actually calm, or that the pool depth is actually good for buoyancy!
So play for joy, play with spirit and feel alive. Even after an honest effort, you may not emerge a winner each time – but then remember, losing does not make you a loser!