Sport & Business: The Coaching Question

I’m training for the London Marathon. It’s fair to say that I am not naturally built for long-distance running. I have two cracking legs. I love them, my wife loves them. Excellent legs they are. For rugby.

3.45 Marathon image

3.45 is the target. That's hours and minutes, not days. Unfortunately.

That said, these legs are going to get me over the finish line in three hours and 45 minutes. That’s the goal: 3.45 (and it’s the name of my and my wife, Emily’s fundraising efforts on behalf of The National Autistic Society). So I am currently locked in some kick ass training that has, sadly, meant fibbing to an app.

The app is Micoach and it’s really, really good. It does everything you could possible want from a personal trainer, and it won’t flirt with your wife or wear hotpants. But when I told it my target time for the Marathon, it tried to kill me with the most ludicrous training schedule I have ever seen. One little white lie later, and we’re all good. Practice is a doddle when your target is November.

The really great thing about running is the time and space it affords you to think. People often draw parallels between sport and business, and it’s easy to see why. Teams, targets: there are probably hundreds of similarities in language alone. There are also big differences.

High end sports coaching is about winning at all costs. Cut away the crap, and that is what you’re left with. It has to be, after all, who would hire a coach who promised no results but a general feeling of well-being? Apart from Liverpool FC.

Yesterday, I watched a cracking interview with top tennis coach Nick Bollettieri (see it here on He has coached Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles, to name just three World No. 1s from a far longer list. He knows how to drive a singular vision, saying of his most famous alumni:

“They refuse to lose. It’s all about winning. That gives them a whole different perspective, whether they’re taking a test, washing a car, or playing an athletic event: winning.”

As I said, fantastic stuff, and there’s a lot more besides. However, to succeed in business today, where team is everything, that attitude has to be very well managed – not encouraged through poor management (or worse, no management because ‘they’re a winner’). I really hate platitudes, so writing ‘none of us is better than all of us’ feels wrong – but the sentiment is absolutely right.

To my mind, a successful company – by which I mean a financial and a cultural success – has to have a medium- and long-term strategy that is, most importantly, about staff development. Not winning, developing.

Our staff strategy as an elevator pitch: you should enjoy what you do enough that you care about getting better at it, and then get better; we should provide the support for that.

At GDS International, our senior management have one overriding responsibility: to provide an environment that empowers staff through this constant process.

That said, I 100% agree with Mr. Bolletieri on a lot of other points, especially this about goal setting and attitude:

“I believe that when people go out and don’t have an objective, they can’t reach whatever level of ability they have. Attitude can help you reach levels that you never thought you can reach, by just making sure, ‘I will do it’. No such words as, ‘I can’t do it’. What do you mean you can’t do it? You can’t do it, unless you don’t try it.”

Or you lie to your coach. Hmm.


About Spencer Green

Spencer Green founded GDS Publishing Ltd in October 1993 to specialise in industrial, government-led publications for the burgeoning Chinese market. The company launched over forty business-to-business titles, was name-checked alongside Tony Blair on China’s national news as ‘best for Chinese business’, and – following a move into India – deemed to be ‘of national importance’ by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. In 1998, GDS Publishing became GDS International and launched its first conference, Enterprise China. The hugely successful Enterprise series of conferences was rolled out across China and Latin America in the next two years. In 2000, GDS International launched its first Senior Executive Summit under the ‘Next Generation’ banner. This became the catalyst for nine years of 25% year-on-year growth... and 40% growth in 2010. In 2011, GDS held over 70 Summits for C-level Executives from a wide range of industries and across the globe, and eight digital marketing conferences. Today, GDS International is determined to become the world’s no. 1 business-to-business media and services company. It’s going to be an exciting journey! Spencer is married to Emily. They have two children, Finlay and Maya, and live in Bristol, UK.
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