Swimming~ From the Pool to the Boardroom




From the outside looking in you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out you can’t explain it. What looks to the outsider like a calm pool of water and relatively easy sport is actually an intense battleground where 1/10 of a second or one less breath separates the winner from the looser. In the pool, lessons are learned by the speed of the training. The clock is ticking, your training partner is constantly sizing you up and your team is depending on you to do your part.

While the hustle demanded by the startup game is slightly different, the survival and success of an entrepreneur has more in common with the sport of swimming than one might think. Potential pitfalls and missteps make it critical for growing companies to remain nimble and able to think on their feet, and entrepreneurs can learn a few things from Swimmers who have triumphed through trial.

Here are five lessons I have learned in the swimming pool that have carried over to the negotiating table:


  1. Flexibility is key.  


One of the first lessons you learn in swimming is that the uncontrollable is always going to happen. Whether it’s injury, changed weather conditions or your goggles falling off mid-race, you really only have two options: you can get flustered and lose your composure, which is almost always a guaranteed recipe for failure, or you can adapt. Great swimmers are able to adapt and adjust to whatever is thrown at them. Even when conditions are not ideal, they find a way to work with it and pivot the situation to their advantage.

Many entrepreneurs convince themselves that having a definitive plan makes the entrepreneurial path less risky. Unfortunately, plans often become a form of false security—they provide structure that becomes too rigid to adhere to and can ultimately be quite costly if there is no room for adapting to changing circumstances. In a perfect world, things would go as planned 100 percent of the time. In reality, you must have goals, but you also need the insight and humility to know when it’s time to slow down, zoom out, reevaluate and adjust.

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  1. Persistence pushes you to the next level.

In swimming, dives, turns and innings create a sense of urgency. Time limits allow you to know where you stand, so you can decide when it’s time to stop holding back and go all in. If you’re behind and you’ve got 25 meters left to the wall, that’s the time to push hard and start implementing the little moves you need to reach your goal to make up the time, to get to the wall.

There is no time clock in entrepreneurship. There is no countdown on a scoreboard that indicates when it’s the right time to sell or go all in. You cannot survive as an entrepreneur without a self-imposed sense of urgency. In business, you are your own timekeeper. If you don’t give yourself a time frame, everything begins to feel insurmountable when you find yourself up against the inevitable obstacles or challenges. When you get in a rut, you have to set smaller steps and smaller goals that keep you moving toward the greater win. Small wins create big wins.


  1. Mental fortitude helps push past obstacles.

Reality check: Bad things will happen, and they will often be entirely out of your control.

When I swam for my old club at Milton Keynes, I had a very bad flu just couple of days prior to the national competition and I had to pull out fromrace. The flu set me back, and while I did eventually heal, it took lots of time until I  bounced back to where I had been prior to getting that horrible flu., Many people might have perceived my pulling out of the competition as a great loss, but I choose to believe it was meant to be.

Let me say it again: Bad things will happen. Your attitude is the most important element to determine the ultimate outcome than anything else. In those instances when bad moments occur, many people get knocked down and choose to remain defeated. But I have convinced myself that when something bad happens it means that something truly amazing is about to happen. In sports, we call it a “momentum shift” — you’ve probably seen it. Just when it seems all hope seems lost, something shifts and changes the entire outcome. Entrepreneurs need to embrace this exact mindset. Sometimes, in order to understand the lesson behind the struggle, you just have to push through.


4. Put it all into perspective.

As an athlete, it’s up to me to know my body. I have to be able to tell the difference between pain and an injury, because that awareness can make the difference between an uncomfortable swim meet and a swim meet that jeopardizes your entire career.

department Every industry, every company, every team has its issues.. As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to determine the difference between the things that are worth your energy and attention from the things that are just nagging hassles or annoyances. So much energy is wasted on things that don’t really matter. If you’re faced with something that doesn’t threaten valuable relationships or the outcomes of your business, is it really worth your time and attention? Always take a step back, and put it into perspective.

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  1. Have humility.

As a swimmer, there were plenty of times things didn’t go my way. Instead of getting down when I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, I worked harder. I knew the reason I wasn’t getting the outcome I wanted was because I needed to get better, faster and stronger.

Now that I own a business, disappointing outcomes have taken on a new form. When a partner doesn’t renew, it would be easy to get down about it. Instead of passing the blame, I look at the opportunity. I try to pinpoint what could have been done differently, and use that knowledge to get better.

It’s important to remember that growing a successful startup is not about winning the race – it’s setting your sights on winning the championship. It takes commitment, effort and expertise. If you want to win, start with you. Because when you get better, your business gets better.

*I would love to hear about moments when you have struggled and succeeded both in sport and in your careers. Drop me a comment below and let’s discuss.


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