Business Lessons from the World of Sport

31 Jul 2012

“I believe in me more than anything in this world” Wilma Rudolph

There are many lessons that people in business can learn from the world of sports. In winning the Tour de France Bradley Wiggins teaches us the importance of perseverance and determination, although there are also major insights to be gained from the impact of teamwork on individual performance from his fantastic victory.

Wilma RudolphThe Olympics are a rich breeding ground for stories of triumph over adversity and one of the most striking is the story of American athlete, Wilma Rudolph. Wilma was born prematurely in 1940, weighing in at only 4 ½ pounds. The bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contacted polio. After losing the use of her left leg at the age of 6 she was fitted with metal leg braces. Local Doctors were not optimistic about Wilma’s prospects of being able to walk properly again. However her mother, Blanche, refused to give up hope and once a week made a 90 mile round trip to a Nashville hospital so that Wilma could receive physical therapy on her leg, with her family providing further therapy at home four times every day. Wilma’s ambition in life at this time was to be able to walk unaided down the aisle at Church when the family attended Sunday service. Finally by the age of 11 she was able to walk normally, with the aid of crutches, braces and corrective shoes and was able to achieve her dream of walking into church just like any other 11 year old.Wilma Rudolph

This determination and ability to overcome setbacks stood her in good stead when she entered the world of athletics. At the 1956 Olympics at the age of 16 she won a bronze medal in the 4x4 relay, but it was at the 1960 Olympics in Rome when she really shone as a star as she became the first American female to win 3 Olympic gold medals with victories in the 100m, 200m and 4x4 relay. In doing so she equalled the world record at 100m, broke the Olympic record at 200m with the 4x4 team breaking the world record in their event.

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us” Wilma Rudolph

There are many lessons to be learnt from Wilma’s story but perhaps this final quote gives us the biggest insight into what it takes to be a success;

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday." Wilma Rudolph

All successful people encounter failure and set backs during their careers, what matters is how you react to them and this is what separates the winners from the losers. Successful people look for the opportunities in situations and seek to find what they can learn from the set backs they have. 

People find success at different ages; Mozart was 5 years old when he first started composing pieces of music whereas JR Tolkien didn’t start writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy until he was 45 and had to wait until he was 62 before they were published. So perhaps you still have plenty of time to achieve your dream!

The question is what is the equivalent of Olympic Gold for you, and what are you prepared to do to get there?