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Seven Lessons from Sports for an Entrepreneur

Seven Lessons from Sports for an Entrepreneur

As I kid, I thought sports were mostly about having fun with friends, being active and healthy, and enjoying the competition. As an adult, I realize that team sports provided me with so much more.

Athletics have always been a part of my life. My mom signed me up for all the local sports rec classes as soon as I was old enough. While I played and enjoyed them all, my favorites were t-ball/softball, soccer, biking, and tennis.

Once I got to middle school and had to decide which sports to focus on, I chose soccer and tennis, both of which I played through high school. My favorite was definitely tennis and that is where I spent the majority of my time and effort. The decision to play college tennis was one of the best decisions I’ve made. While it certainly was a time commitment, it was so worth it.

My heart still belongs on the tennis court. While I don’t play as much today as I’d like to, my experiences from years on tennis teams and other athletic teams taught me many lessons that have helped me in the rest of my life, and especially as an entrepreneur. 

  • Discipline: With practice every day, matches that sometimes required missing class, tournaments on the weekends, and off-season training, things like time management, healthy eating, and enough sleep quickly become the key between success and failure in all areas of life. Being good at things required a lot of personal discipline. This was great preparation for life with a side hustle. Balancing a full time job while starting up a business and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and relationships with family and friends requires an immense amount of discipline. This isn’t something you learn from a book. It's developed through practice over time, and high school and college sports serve as the perfect training ground.
  • Teamwork: In all sports, you learn your different role and position within the team. You can’t all do the same thing or be good at the same aspect of the game. You need to learn to move together, anticipate what is coming, communicate, and put each other in a place to be successful. The same is true in business and especially in a startup where you wear many hats. Dividing and conquering is key to moving forward.  
  • Strategy: If your opponent hates hitting backhands, keep serving it to their backhand! Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, analyzing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and determining how to win isn’t just something you do in prep for a big match. It’s something we are doing every day in business. At OnUp, we aren’t just playing to play. We are playing to win. That means understanding your playing field, outlining your path to success, and adjusting throughout the game.
  • Goal Oriented: I quickly learned at a young age that you only get better by having a goal and practicing to meet that goal. Sometimes it was a short term goal like hitting a certain number of consecutive shots crosscourt, while other times it was a longer term goal like winning the Conference Tournament the next year. As a startup, our goal is on winning in the longterm, but it requires shorter term goals and wins to get there.  
  • Confidence: When I first started playing soccer, I was the only girl on the team (or, at least the only girl that ever showed up for anything). When I was a freshman in high school, I played on the varsity tennis team with mostly seniors. For someone who is naturally more introverted, competing and being part of those teams required building confidence in knowing I belonged. As a startup, it can sometimes be easy to look around and wonder “what am I doing here?”. You need confidence to say you belong in the game and you will win. 
  • Perseverance: I played #1 singles in high school as a sophomore. Although this meant I was the best on my team, it also meant that I played the best person on every other team. Often that person had a strong state or national ranking, and I would be lucky to get a game. That teaches you real fast to deal with disappointment and persevere. As an entrepreneur, you can expect to face many challenges and failures along the way. But, if you want to succeed, you need to keep going. 
  • Sacrifice: When you commit to something, it often means giving up other things. When you have a big match the next day, it means getting your homework done and going to bed early rather than going out with friends. With OnUp, it means giving up many evening and weekend activities to do OnUp work. When I really would rather be sitting out on the patio with a glass of wine, I’m sitting inside in front of my computer instead. 

Sports is more than simply fun with friends and good health. It is a character building activity that prepares you for life. It’s not always easy. And, you often ask yourself if it is worth everything that you’re putting into it. When you decide that it is and you keep going, it is worth it in the end.

The same is true for launching a startup. I often ask myself “is this even worth it”, but I remind myself that it is. And, I’m thankful for all the experiences I had on the tennis court and athletic fields that equipped me with the tools I need to be successful.