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What AFL players can teach small businesses

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

There's a lot to learn from team sports - a focus on teamwork, working together and dedication, among many others. As we approach finals season, Jeff Haden takes a look at what the AFL can teach Aussie businesses.

ariel view of AFL ground next to river

Every small business owner needs hard-working, collaborative, team-first employees willing to embrace and dedicate themselves to a larger purpose.

Sound like AFL players? Of course it does: footy is an intense game of innovation, strategy, teamwork, and strength – and so is business.

So what can AFL players teach you about running your business?

They frequently visualise

Athletes mentally rehearse by imagining themselves successfully performing a skill. You can too. Imagine yourself making a crucial sales pitch. Think about what you’ll say, what your potential customer might say, how you’ll respond, and how you’ll close.

Or imagine yourself leading an important meeting. But don’t just rehearse what you will say; also picture yourself losing control of the room, and how you’ll regain control and get things back on track. Or imagine yourself explaining the benefits of a new product or service; you might be surprised by how quickly you’ll spot improvements you can make before you actually roll it out.

And there’s a bonus to visualisation: mentally picturing yourself succeed is a great way to build confidence and self-assurance – and reduce stress.

They constantly practice

Every AFL player has spent countless hours training developing and honing skills, as well as fostering teamwork and building a sense of camaraderie.

Contrast that with the average business owner or employee who spends very little time practicing and perfecting skills.

On-the-job training is great, but sometimes nothing beats focused, intentional practice, especially when the skill gained is extremely important to the success of your business.

Determine the two or three skills that are absolutely vital for you or your employees to possess, and take a step back and practice those skills. You may “waste” a few hours, but the time spent is actually an investment that can be leveraged over years of improved performance.

They always embrace urgency

The scoreboard ultimately tells the story in footy, and the ticking clock creates a natural sense of urgency and intensity. In business there is rarely a clock – unless you create one.

Setting time-based goals, and holding yourself to them, creates a sense of importance and necessity that fosters motivation, innovation, and the drive to overcome challenges and obstacles.

Plus we all love to win – and achieving goals, especially challenging goals, feels just like winning.

They systematically learn from the past

Every footy club uses video analysis to identify opportunities for improvement. That makes sense… but do you do the same with your business? Do you analyse results to determine ways you can improve? Do you assess performance to determine additional training needs or developmental opportunities?

You might – but do you do it as often as you should?

They never fail to prepare for, “what if?”

What if you’re down by 12 points with three minutes to go? What if the opposing full forward is running riot over your defense? What if you can’t seem to get any center clearances? Footy teams plan for a variety of game scenarios so they can implement those plans on a moment’s notice.

So can you. What if your software freezes during a product demo? Decide ahead of time what you'll do. What if a meeting is delayed and you're only given 10 minutes instead of 20 to deliver your demo? Decide ahead of time how to shorten your presentation so you still hit your key points. What if you are asked questions you can’t answer? Decide ahead of time how you will respond.

They wholeheartedly embrace the present

Possibly you think fondly back to the good old days when the interchange bench wasn’t like a revolving door. Maybe you liked when players played the same position for an entire game. Maybe you liked when full forwards kicked bags of goals and the game was rougher and tougher.

Today’s AFL players aren’t living in the past. They embrace the game for what it is, not what it was – and they work incredibly hard to succeed at that game.

So should you. Complain about it all you like, but social media has changed marketing forever. Loyalty is wonderful, but job-hopping employees is a fact of life for the average employer. Vertical integration is great, but outsourcing and freelancing are extremely effective ways of sourcing skills, experience, services, and supplies.

AFL players respect the past but embrace the present – and are constantly looking for ways to be more successful in the future.

Should you and your business adopt the same approach?

Sports teams also rely on partners to make them better.

Read more on why you should surround yourself with partners here.

Find Out More

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