What Top Athletes Can Teach Top Business Performers

Top Athletes

What Top Athletes Can Teach Top Business Performers

Unless you were vacationing beyond the reach of technology, you know that the 2020 Summer Olympics – postponed one year to 2021 – has just wrapped up in Tokyo, Japan. Despite the absence of in-person spectators (damn covid!) – more than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries continue to dazzle digital crowds with grit, passion, and amazing athletic feats. What makes an Olympian an Olympian? Athletic ability, obviously, but psychologists tell us that there’s more to the story. Olympians and other alpha athletes have several psychological traits in common, traits that have significant carryover into the world of business. The “greats” visualize their goals, know the difference between self-confidence and cockiness, and find time to unwind. How many of these personal traits are in your toolbox?

Visualize the Gold/Goals

Have you ever walked out of a boardroom or conference call convinced that you blew it? Yes, we’ve all been there. Often, the failure to succeed in selling ourselves, our products, and our services can be attributed to our lack of preparation. Without visualizing the outcome we seek, we do ourselves disservice before we even unveil the presentation.

Top athletes prepare for their events by visualizing the outcome before they step to the starting block. With the gold in mind, these same athletes determine how they will need to run their event to reach the gold(goal). Is this possible in our organizations? Of course. Picture the result you seek before you even begin your preparation. Draw a mental image of the moment you nail the promotion, dazzle the board, or convince your client to buy your products or services. Ask yourself throughout your preparatory process, “Am I moving closer to the goal I have visualized or am I further away?” Also, if you are unable to visualize your potential success, step back and ponder why.

Confident, not Cocky

Make no mistake about it, the greats in distance running, soccer, sales, and leadership know they’re great. When you’ve tasted success, you quickly learn which parts of your process and which personal gifts led you there. Rinse and repeat.

High achievers are self-confident. They understand that if they “do what they do” at a high level, the rewards will come. This self-confidence leads to repetition of great skills and the refinement of emerging skills. Cockiness, on the other hand, leads to sloppiness, poor performance, and, ultimately, failure. If the US Men’s Basketball team, loaded with professionals, assumes they’re going to win because they are the world’s greatest ball players, a more cohesive and prepared team will defeat them. Likewise, the cocky executive who believes they have arrived and deserves office worship, will eventually get knocked off the pedestal by the newcomer who puts in the hours, knows she is still learning, and is willing to sweat her way to success. Recognize the line between self-confidence and cockiness and don’t ever cross it.


For the athletes housed in Tokyo’s Olympic Village, 24/7 food, gaming, and entertainment options provide needed siestas in between workouts and competitions. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. Top athletes find balance between training, rest, and recreation.

If you want to grow in your professional life, make sure you’re also attuned to the need for balance. Connect with family. Take care of your body and spirit. Find ways to interact with your colleagues outside of the office. Have fun. Most importantly, recognize when it’s time to go on a technology fast so you truly step away from work.

Yes, top athletes can teach us how to be at the top of our fields. Visualize your goals. Exercise confidence, not cockiness. Unwind. Here’s to Gold.