By Dave Kahle

Sports Coaches Advice for Business and Sales

Focus, Practice, Commitment to Goals


Dave, I’m wearied by the preponderance of books and business advice by all these sports coaches. What’s your opinion?  How many different coaches do we need to hear from?  Is sports coaches’ advice to sales people worthwhile?  Is it another example of our infatuation with sports and the desire to bring that into our own lives?


What a thoughtful question.  Congratulations for the insight that leads you to ask this question.  Here are my thoughts…

I can understand the interest in sports coaches doling out success formulas.  From the athlete’s perspective, the character traits that are developed through successful sports involvement will serve anyone well in the business world.  From the point of view of the manager or executive, many of those leadership techniques that make a sports team a winner are techniques that help the team play at their very best — focus, commitment to goals, practice, attention to detail, best practices, etc.  Those are desirable and helpful in the world of business.

And, it’s been my observation that as kids grow up, those who participate in sports have a much better chance of staying out of trouble and succeeding than do those who refrain from athletic competition. Whenever I interview a candidate for a sales position, for example, if he/she has had some experience on an athletic team, that always scores extra points with me.

So, on the surface, I can understand, and to some degree, support the fad.

However, there are significant differences that call into question the applicability of the wisdom of high profile sports coaches.  High-profile coaches work in a world that is a far cry from that of the typical sales manager.

First, the sports coach’s successes are measured once or twice a week.  In other words, they have the luxury of competing only once or twice a week, for a specific portion of the year.  They can, therefore, focus all their resources on that specific contest.  Win ten times a year, and you are a very successful football coach.

Salespeople and sales managers in the real world must contest with their competitors daily.  Win only ten times a year and you’re out of a job.  The quantity of contests dramatically reduces the validity of the sports comparison.  Many of the real success issues for salespeople have to do with prioritizing their time (see my book: Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople), and effectively managing the growing quantity of “things to do.”  These are hardly issues that are pertinent for the once-a-week sports coach.

Second, those high-profile coaches have the luxury of working with the absolute cream of the crop.  Think of the 15 or so basketball players on a Pat Riley team.  Of all the world of human beings or just the male population of the USA, he has people who are in the top fraction of a percentage.  I’m not sure what percentage 15 is of 120 million, but you get the idea.  The people the highly visible sports coaches work with are the most highly motivated, most capable, most dedicated fraction of a much larger universe.

Alas, most sales executives do not have the absolute top 1/1000 of 1/10th of 1 percent of the population with which to work.  So, real-world issues having to do with motivation, capabilities, dedication, experience, etc., are what comprise the work of the sales leader. The professional sports coach expects to field a number of superstars every season.  The sales leader in the real world is fortunate to come across one superstar salesperson in his/her lifetime.

There is another telling difference between the two.  There is, on the part of professional sports teams, coaches, and executives, a commonly-help belief that, in order to field a winning team, you need to invest in acquiring and developing the best talent you can.  So, they hire the best coaches, and lots of them, acquire world-class training facilities and invest in trainers, nutritionists, sports psychologists, etc.  All of this time and money invested to gain a slight competitive edge is just routine for professional sports teams.  No one would question the wisdom of investing in their players to bring them to higher levels of productivity and performance.

Unfortunately, that is not true of the typical B2B company.  Ask about well-defined processes to ensure that you hire the very best salespeople, and you’ll be met with blank stares.  Dig a bit into budgets for training and developing the sales competencies of the sales team, and you’ll find nothing budgeted, no plans made, and not even an acknowledgment that salespeople can become more productive when they are shown how to do their jobs more effectively.

So, a major difference between high-performing sports teams and the typical B2B company has to do with the attitudes and beliefs on the part of the executive team.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the fad is an expression of American’s fascination with celebrities.  The fascination is not one of our more redeeming qualities.  It is, unfortunately, true that tens of thousands of salespeople will read the latest sports coach book and take away simplistic platitudes that only remotely apply to their job, while only a fraction of that amount will read any of the books written for their profession.


Originally published: Sports Coaches Advice for Business and Sales | Dave Kahle Wisdom QA-SM-16