How sports has helped me handle the challenges of being an entrepreneur

how sports improve entrepreneurs

I was a sportsperson during my school and college days who played table tennis competitively. Today, as I lead my life as an entrepreneur, I see a strong correlation between sports and the corporate world. I frequently come across situations where I can easily tie it back to my table tennis days.

I had represented the city of Nagpur in table tennis and at my best, I participated in the state level competitions. Well, this may not sound like a great achievement, but it did prepare me for greater challenges of life. A sportsperson goes through a lot of tough times while playing any sport at a competitive level. It requires risk analysis and a lot of quick decisions are to be taken on the field.

It’s been 10 years running Hotelogix now, I am at a loss of count as to how many times I have applied my learning from sports to my work table. Playing sports has taught me the best lessons that come to me naturally today and I strongly believe it helps me in my journey as an entrepreneur. Not only does it make me a stronger person (not just physically but mentally also), it also helps me deal with difficult situations that come my way as an entrepreneur. Many such situations otherwise could easily drain you out, if you don’t know how to tackle them.

Many times, I have found solutions to my problems by applying theories that I have learned while playing. This is why I am penning down my experience, to draw an astounding correlation between sports and entrepreneurship.

What are these correlations and lessons, let’s have a look at them.

Sports teaches you to never quit and to be consistent

When I was in school, I use to cycle 90 mins every day, between home and school. Then in the evening, I would practice table tennis for 2-3 hours at our club. Doing this as a routine, every day for years, not only helped me build my stamina but also instilled the habit of being consistent in my efforts.

Skipping the practice sessions was not an option for me. Interestingly, neither my coach nor my parents would forced me into this activity. I was self-driven. I remember having missed many family vacations as I wanted to stay back in Nagpur during my summer holidays, just for practicing the game. And mind you, summers in Nagpur are notorious as the temperatures can easily touch 45+ degrees celsius, but it never mattered to me or my fellow players.

When we are passionate about something, compromises and sacrifices don’t hinder us from pursuing it. I learnt how to win over my mind when it starts to drift. This is a very important behavioural aspect required in the entrepreneurial world.

Sports makes you disciplined, focused and dedicated

As soon as I would get back home from school, I would quickly finish my mandatory chores and after a routine check on my kit bag, would leave home with a flask filled with fresh lime water and a bottle of water. This drill was a daily ritual for me and my fellow players.

Over a period of time, I found myself to be more disciplined, organized and focused in my approach. There is no need to stress further on how these qualities are essential for anyone who is an entrepreneur or otherwise in any other field.

Mostly, we would have a plan of what new strokes we want to learn and what strokes we wish to correct or sharpen. All this was part of a larger plan about what we need to achieve in a given week or month. No doubt, one must be disciplined, focussed and dedicated to carry out the same routine persistently in order to achieve the final goal.

Sports teaches you to take care of the body

Sports makes you start worshipping your body. And soon, it starts reflecting in our other habits also. Sports made me naturally inclined towards maintaining good health and hence, in a good state of mind. Both a healthy mind and body would bring me to an ever-ready state of mind for a good game and any other challenge in life.

You learn Team spirit and Sportsmanship

By default, being a sportsperson will make you face situations where you will be tested for your team spirit and sportsmanship. This exposure plays a very important role later in life when we have to work in teams in our professional lives. At a very young age, I learnt to deal with many players with different capabilities. I learned how to cover up for a weak team player and also how to best utilize a good player for our benefit. Basically, you learn how to sustain and move ahead with good and bad you have; a much-required trait in your entrepreneurial journey also.

Early in life, I learnt and still apply that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and we have to adapt and accept people the way they are. While playing a doubles match, you cannot afford to be critical about your partner, even if the partner makes a mistake. The only option you have is to motivate them and up your own game to cover for them.

Remember, table tennis is a very fast game and one can’t coach their partner during the game. So, you have to accept your partners as they are on that day.
Help other players/teammates to iron out their weakness and win as a team. Because if one loses, the whole team loses the game.

Another very important lesson that I have learnt during my table tennis playing years was that winning and losing will always remain part of our life. It is true that every time I entered the table tennis court, it was always to win and nothing else. But I also learned to accept defeat graciously and was humble in my wins. My advice is to not take it either very seriously, because you will win some and lose some.

True sportsmanship is when you encourage and appreciate your defeated opponent and praise their best shots. I can think of several occasions when I approached my opponent after defeating them, to share a few words of appreciation. Similarly, there have been many players who have been courteous to me when I lost to them.

Sports teaches you to deal with disappointment

All of us need to understand that we can’t win all the matches. And with every defeat, you get even more focussed and determined. Missing the medal should encourage you towards working harder for the next game. All of us need to apply that to our professional lives also. Every day, at work, all of us deal with this situation and all you need to do is get back to the game and giving it your best shot, again and again.

Respect competitors, coaches and fellow athletes

As a player, I have played with some very talented players, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. I have always respected them for their skills. My coach would always say, “Your competitors beat you because they are better than you. They will make you sweat and if you don’t sweat, chances are that you would never beat them.” Respect your coaches, umpires, support staff and other officials, because they make it happen for you every day. Similarly, respect every individual at your office. Everyone has a role to play in the common outcome.

You learn to set up goals

Setting your goals is very important. We do that in our professional lives also. Every financial year we have a goal to be achieved. For the sake of convenience and strategy, we further break it into mini goals and work towards it. Connecting it to my table tennis days, I would set goals for myself, e.g. this year I want to increase my ranking and come into the top 5 or this year I have to get into the ‘boys’ team. Setting up such goals help us get better in our game or work, as we could put in the required effort towards achieving them.

Un-applauded hard work

Hours, months and years would pass by, without someone applauding for you. I was in an environment, where being self-driven was a way of life. No one would applaud you for a small achievement of sharpening a particular stroke. Or no one would applaud for you getting into the top 16.

Instant gratification was not something I ever looked for. I knew it is a long journey, and this would need to be travelled with small milestones to be covered.

Success does not happen overnight. Always stay prepared for a long grind! Getting into the top 16, then top 8 and then top 4 to eventually be part of the team was never an overnight plan. It took years to get there or to win a trophy. Champions were not made in a day and this is something I have always believed in.

Self-pride

Well, I may sound a little boastful here. After I would win a match, I use to celebrate the mini milestones that I would accomplish. I lived a life where I always had a degree of self-pride in these mini wins as I call them.

Lifelong friends and memories

Table Tennis gave me the friends with whom I have such deep memories that they have become an integral part of my life. Experiences that we have gone through together, are now permanently etched in my memory. I think it is important to live such a life and have such connections at the workplace, where you create memories and stories for life.

The work you do is only as interesting or as boring as you make it. The difference lies in how passionate you are about what you do and, in the stories and memories that you create in the process.

I will end this blog by saying that playing table tennis prepared me well to deal with many situations that I deal with today, as an entrepreneur. With this blog, I have tried to articulate what I truly feel about the correlation between sports and entrepreneurship. I hope that you, the reader, can take a few pointers and apply these to their lives as well.

I take this opportunity to thank Swati Tewari, who used to be a national level player from Nagpur, for providing structure to my thoughts.

Aditya Sanghi spearheads Hotelogix, as Co-founder and CEO driving growth with thought leadership. He has formidable experience in marketing technology products through their lifecycle and has been involved in multiple strategic business alliances. He has been a active member of NASSCOM, TIE, Round Table and is a frequent speaker at various entrepreneurship, startups forums and international exhibitions.