Cheering on the Oregon Ducks during our office March Madness competition this year reminded me of my own days playing basketball and volleyball. Many of the lessons I learned while playing these sports continue to guide my career to this day.

One of the most surprising lessons? The importance of practicing fundamentals. In basketball, we spent hours drilling basic skills, like free throws and dribbling. Our team once complained, “Why are we still practicing this?” Our coach answered, “You can’t expect to sink a game-winning three-pointer if you can’t nail a free throw during practice.”

While I didn’t know it at the time, my coach’s words would impact far more than my basketball game. These are three sports lessons that I’ve taken from the court to the office:

  1. Master the basics.

When I played basketball, our team spent hours drilling basic skills, like free throws, so we could execute these skills flawlessly in high stakes games. Fundamental skill mastery can make the difference between a win and a loss. You need to be able to nail that free throw every time, regardless of the pressure, the screaming crowds, or the buzzer.

Sales is the same: you need to master the small skills to achieve your big goals. Basics like making calls and following up after a meeting are essential to your success, and you need to practice them until they become automatic. The same goes for pitching clients and negotiating deals: do you practice these skills with colleagues before a big meeting or do you walk in without any prep work?

  1. Practice working as a team.

On the court, you’re never alone. Your success depends on the people around you. You need to know your teammates like the back of your hand: understand their strengths and weaknesses, anticipate their moves, and communicate with them quickly and effectively. Even though teams may have stars, one player can’t win without help. You can’t pass the ball and receive it.

At work, especially in a sales role, it can sometimes feel like your successes and failures are yours alone. But no one truly works in isolation. A star salesperson can’t sink a three-pointer without marketing passing her the ball first. Get to know your colleagues and break down silos between marketing and sales departments. Surround yourself with competitive individuals who will all push each other to the next level of achievement and support one another’s successes.

  1. Play until the buzzer.

During one of the March Madness games I watched this year, the defense gave up with ten seconds left on the clock. In sales and in sports, play your heart out until the end. As the Patriots’ dramatic Super Bowl comeback proves, a team with discipline and drive can overcome a huge deficit to win the game in the final seconds. The same goes for sales: today’s sales cycle is longer and more complex than it’s ever been. To be successful, you can’t give up after initial rebuffs or rejections. Even when you’re down, you have to keep fighting until the buzzer. You never know when your final shot could win the game.

 

Did you play sports in high school or college? I’m curious which sports lessons you’ve brought to your career: share yours in the comments section below.

 


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