If you kept up with the NBA Finals (or have a spouse who did) you know that the big story of the championship was Dirk Nowitzki, the forward and leader of the Dallas Mavericks and the MVP of the series. It was the first championship ring, and boy has he faced his share of challenges. He came to the NBA from Germany—only the fourth German player to do so—and although he was drafted in 1998 amid a lot of buzz about his talent, he didn’t live up to it (initially). But this year, he played—and won—game four of this series with a sinus infection and a fever.
Just from that information, you can garner that Nowitzki has a lot of qualities that would serve him well in the business world: He’s a leader, he’s determined, he’s competitive and goal-oriented. In fact, there’s a reason why so many current and retired athletes also have thriving businesses—John Elway owns car dealerships, Magic Johnson has a chain of movie theaters, Joe Theismann is a restaurateur—sports and business require a lot of the same skills.
How can this help you? Well, the chances of any of us—myself included—becoming a professional athlete are pretty slim. But we can certainly play on a community team, hit the tennis courts, or at least follow a professional team or two. And doing so could help us in our day-to-day business endeavors, says Garret Kramer, the founder of Inner Sports and author of Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence, which came out this month.
Here are five reasons to join that softball team:
- It could help teach you the skills you need. As I mentioned earlier, sports require leadership skills, a competitive edge and focus. But Kramer tells me that there’s a caveat here: the lesson is not automatic. You can’t just sign up and expect to learn these traits by osmosis (and, by the way, the same applies to your kids: Signing them up for every soccer team and gymnastics club in your area will not make them the next Mark Zuckerberg). But being on the field will help you hone those qualities, particularly if you already possess them and they just need some sharpening.
- It’s a time to relax. You need that, whether you know it or not. Not just to decompress and blow off some steam, but also because when you’re letting loose, when you’re not so focused on a goal, you often have the best ideas. I wrote about this about a month ago, the idea that we often have a flash of brilliance, an epiphany, when we least expect it. “Sports is a great teacher in solving problems on the go because we turn our intellect off. If I’m a basketball or hockey player, the more my brain revs up, the more confused I’m going to be, says Kramer. "But the more I embrace the journey and the experience of the game, the more my insights are going to flow, my instincts will kick in, and I’ll make great decisions.” The best decisions and ideas often don’t come via intellect, but instinct.
- You’ll learn to set benchmarks. I’ve long said that to meet a goal, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. So if you want to save $1,000, or lose 50 pounds, you focus on saving $100 a month or losing two pounds a week. Athletes have a goal in mind: they want to win it all, the championship, the way Nowitzki and the Mavericks just did. But along the way, their main focus is meeting and beating benchmarks—namely winning games, but also individual objectives regarding points scored, yards completed, assists made.
- It teaches you to enjoy the ride. Goals are obviously important, both in sports and in business. But Kramer says that they can also be limiting. “Focusing on a goal actually narrows the field. What happens is that we zero in on that objective, equate achieving that goal to our own self-worth, as opposed to relishing the experience, the journey.” As a business owner, one of your greatest assets is passion, and if your only objective is to succeed or make money at any cost, you won’t get very far.
- It’s a great networking opportunity. If all else fails, joining a sports team will get you out in the community, among your potential customers and other business owners. That certainly never hurts.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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