It's as true in sport as it is in business: everything you do has a risk attached. I’m a rower and have been training for the past two years to compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio next year, but there was nothing inevitable about me getting to this stage in my career.
Before I got the backing of Investec – who are now sponsoring me to row full-time – I was struggling to fit sport around an unfulfilling job. This was my safe option. I’m partially sighted and knew I was going to lose my eyesight altogether, so I realised that I had to commit fully to something I really enjoyed. So I pitched for support from Investec, left my job, and am now entirely focused on my training. This was a risk, of course. But everyone who has ever achieved anything in life has taken big risks.
I think there are other qualities that elite sportsmen and women have that are also applicable to people starting and running their own companies.
First, many entrepreneurs start off with very little money, and probably limited knowledge and experience. I had no funding – I was spending all the money I earned going to training camps. And when you’re in that situation, you really need a motivation and determination to push through the barriers that stand in your way. I got that determination when I was told I’d lose my sight when I was young – it was a major set-back. I was told there would be so many things I would never be able to do: ride a bike, get certain jobs. But when I found rowing, I realised it was something I could throw myself into, even though I lacked so many of the resources necessary at the time.
Second, it’s important not to be intimidated that the top is so far away. Many friends tell me that I’m lucky – but there’s nothing stopping anyone if they really want to get to a certain point. It’s ultimately about hard work and discipline. Whenever I meet people, they’re fascinated by the work I put in – whether it’s the number of calories I eat each day, or the number of hours I spend training. If you come to understand that your ability to succeed depends on what you put in, the top doesn’t seem so far away.
Third, you need to be positive and resilient. Just as in business, there are tough days in sport – especially when you’re training in the winter. Staying optimistic about your chances is vital, but it’s also about putting your body and mind in the best place to perform every day. You have to be diligent in how you organise yourself, sometimes sacrificing your social life. There is, however, a balance. I get a day off once every fortnight. I know that, if I use that time to relax and recover, I will get back into training really ready to tackle the next few weeks. But that will not always put you in the best place psychologically, so sometimes you need to take time out to build your long-term resilience.
Finally, I think entrepreneurs and professional sportsmen and women share one other quality: a desire to distinguish yourself. I’ve always fought to be the best at what I do, and I didn’t feel able to do this in my old job. Now that I’m in a position to row full time, that really motivates me. I’m never bored.
This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as advice of any nature. The views and opinions expressed are subject to change without notice.