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How Business is Like Tennis

In tennis, it is not the opponent you fear, it is the failure itself, knowing how near you were but just out of reach.

~Andy Murray
I am often asked what it is like to own and run a business. I normally make a tennis analogy because playing tennis is something I really enjoy and it really just seems to fit.
Firstly, being successful in both tennis and business can be described in similar terms. The winner of a game, set or match is usually the player who makes fewer mistakes and outplays his or her opponent in drive and strategy. Similarly, the most successful business is the one that has the best strategy, the most passion and makes the fewest mistakes.
Another parallel between business and tennis is that both are unforgiving when you allow your focus to drift. In tennis, you cannot worry about the score but must always focus on the next ball. The minute you start concentrating on the score, you let down a tad, which gives your opponent an opportunity to score or you miss hit the ball. It is the same when running a business. What was done in the past must stay in the past, and your focus must always be on doing the best you can right now.
While playing tennis the other day, I went for a shot. I had to run to hit the ball, and when I did, I fell. I was trying to reach too far out and just lost my balance (but I did make the point!). Likewise, in business, reaching for too much too fast can cause you to fail. It takes consistent focus to be successful, and trying to grow a business before adequate infrastructure is in place can be disastrous.
Additionally, both tennis and business require you to work well as a team. In doubles, you rely on your partner to cover the open part of the court so you can return the ball no matter where it is hit. In business, you also rely on your partner for support and encouragement to help you be at your best.
Whether doubles partner or business partner, it is the team that determines success, not individual accomplishments. The whole team must work together to achieve the desired outcome. Without teamwork, you cannot be successful.
Furthermore, the serve—or the start—is pivotal in both tennis and business. In tennis, the serve starts each point and, in my opinion, is one of the hardest shots in the match. There is just so much that can go wrong if you lose your form. Likewise, starting a new business or introducing a new product or service requires a great deal of coordination, and being successful depends on how well you sweat the details. You must watch and manage even the smallest details to be successful.
As with most sports, in tennis, it takes time and continuous work to master your strokes and footwork. Similarly, success in business is not achieved overnight but by working diligently to improve your operations each and every day.
Finally, whether playing a game of tennis or running your business, you must always keep your eye on the ball. In tennis, it is so easy to take your eye off the ball and look at where you want the ball to go, but this usually puts it right in the net. When running your business, you must always be thinking about what you need to do right now rather than looking down the road. Of course it is important to set future goals and know where you want to take your business, but if you do not execute the plan, you will never reach your target.
Winning at tennis and being successful in business have some pretty similar challenges. In both cases, the most successful is going to be the one that has the best strategy and executes it well. Now go out and make sure you have a plan for dealing with your challenges and a way to implement it so your ball does not go into the net.
You can do this!
Published: July 7, 2014

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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