Your Business

How sport makes better advisers

30 November 2018

Skills forged in the intensity of sport can transform your approach to business, explains Virat Nehru.

Teamwork, goal-setting, attention to detail, emotional intelligence and resilience are all the necessary traits that ensure success in sport.

Wealth Insurance Solutions adviser Elton Flatley enjoyed a highly successful career representing Australia in rugby union before transitioning into the advice sector. He believes his sporting background helped him become a better adviser.

“The big thing from sports that translates well into what I am doing now, and this I’m guessing would be common for many sportspeople, is being self-motivated,” he says.

“I’m very goal-driven and like to set out things to achieve and make plans around how to achieve them. I was involved in a team sport which is a pretty strategic game. You sit down as a team and strategise how you are going to play the opposition.”

Teamwork, goal-setting, attention to detail, emotional intelligence and resilience are all the necessary traits that ensure success in sport. As Flatley suggests, they apply just as powerfully to business.

You may have noticed that it’s not unusual for elite athletes to go into business after hanging up their boots. After all, they do retire from professional sport in their 30s, and often proceed to kick goals in business too.

Take three more rugby union star players as examples: George Gregan has a number of hospitality venues, Stirling Mortlock is a founding partner of Unio Advisers, and Phil Waugh works for St.George Bank, among others.

Learn to be in the moment and take control

With an ongoing royal commission, uncertainty around possible rule changes and new study requirements, it’s a particularly stressful time for financial advisers. There are cues advisers can take from the sporting world and apply to their businesses that can help.

The practical planning to achieve objectives in sport is “exactly what happens in a business setting: you work as part of a team, strategise and set down short-term, medium-term and long-term goals”, explains Flatley.

Mental health expert and Mindstar co-founder Aaron Williams elaborates: “There is a concept called ‘stress resilience’, where you are present in the moment, just like you would be when you get ready to take a golf shot or a basketball shot,” he says.

Stress resilience is a really important practice advisers can learn from sportspeople and incorporate in their business practice.

“You are just in the moment and not affected by the stress around you, which allows you to not just perform better, but also be a better leader for people around you. The lesson around being in the moment is there in sport but lacking in the business world,” Williams explains.

Flatley concurs with Williams, he believes stress resilience was instilled in him as an athlete and it has helped him immensely in the current climate surrounding the financial advice industry. “I try and not worry too much about things you can’t control,” he says.

“There are a lot of changes happening right now in financial planning. There is uncertainty about a lot of things – whether that be study requirements or royal commissions. It’s an ever changing world. You have to prepare your business for the future. But at the same time, I try not to overthink it. It’s all about not getting caught up in the stress and just controlling what you can control.”

You don’t have to play sport

You don’t need to have an elite sports background to reap its benefits.

Thanks to an ever-increasing curiosity and focus on what makes elite athletes perform the way they do, sports-performance psychologists have drawn universal principles of achievement that everyday people can benefit from.

Academics and organisational psychologists began exploring the link between sports and business performance back in the 80s. A recent article in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology interviewed 10 sports coaches and 10 business executives to find out what makes a successful organisation. Most sport and business leaders were in agreement on the main factors of organisational success:

  • leader characteristics – honesty, consistency, decisiveness and being organised
  • interpersonal skills – empathy, interaction with others, being a good listener and being trustworthy
  • leadership style – democratic and situational.

An important theme that emerged as common between successful sports and business leaders was the ability to employ a high level of interpersonal competencies such as listening, empathy and building trust.

Sycon Wealth managing director Fletcher Holmes played rugby league with the Brisbane Broncos before becoming an adviser. He believes the most important part of being an adviser is establishing strong relationships, which came to him naturally because of his sporting background.

“For me, the most important part between a client and adviser is trust,” he says. “I’ve been in this industry three and half to four years and have got a really strong client base. And that’s because of the trust I have been able to establish.”

Psychologist Jocelyn Penna believes achievement is maximised when people:

  • have a clear understanding of their objectives and sources of motivation
  • follow step by step guidelines to increase the chances of attaining the goal
  • focus on things they can control (finding an option to manage other circumstances decreases wasted mental energy)
  • are not distracted by setbacks
  • focus on themselves and their own strengths (comparing themselves with others or their achievements will often result in disappointment and decreased motivation)
  • manage time and plan ahead for periods of high pressure and stress
  • live by values (when behaviour fits with their values people are more productive, less distracted and more positive).

But playing sport does have benefits

Penna explains that sporting activity, even if it is just weekend recreational sport is beneficial:

  • in leading to gains in physical strength, which improves sustained posture, decreasing muscle tension and increases productivity
  • in improving sleep quality, which in turn improves physical and psychological functioning (psychological benefits of better quality sleep include concentration, sustained motivation and more effective decision making)
  • by enhancing the ability to excel as part of a diverse team
  • by providing a positive environment of camaraderie and belonging, where the positive emotional effects last well after the game or training session has finished.

One of the most important lessons that can be adopted from sports is to celebrate your wins. Flatley shares his story about why he got involved in sports as a kid. His motivation was not to be an elite athlete, or represent Australia, or have a long and successful sporting career. It was a lot simpler than that.

“One of the biggest things about sport for me was the fun factor,” he says. “When I played sport as a kid, I played for fun. And the goal was to enjoy myself. And sometimes, we don’t do enough of that in the business world. We don’t enjoy the fun side and the success that we might have had. We get too busy and don’t often have time to sit back and celebrate our hard work.

“Sometimes, we overdid the celebration part as footballers. But in the business world, we don’t do it enough.”