I played all sorts of sports from first grade through the end of high school. There was a single season flameout with t-ball, and a bunch of lost winters with a basketball, but I mostly played soccer.
Spring and fall, year after year, and I spent time at just about every position, except goalie.
A lot of this was with my local boys and girls club, where I did well, and I spent a couple years with a select team, where I managed to stay on.
I was on the team in high school, but I didn’t get a lot of time on the field. The experience was humbling and frustrating, but it also prepared me in some ways for my future as an entrepreneur.
Here are three ways my time as a benchwarmer in soccer helped me in business.
Not Everybody Can Be the Chief
I wanted to be the captain of my team. Everybody did. But there was one captain and he was a starter. I accepted my role — I’d get out there and play when there was an injury or a blowout. It wasn’t a glamour job, but it was something that needed to get done for the team.
In the case of a company, there are some high profile opportunities, but there are many more times when you have to get your hands dirty building things up. Those tasks that are done with no acknowledgement or appreciation will test your mettle, and they will also make for a well-rounded team, even if it’s a team of one.
No Such Thing as a Level Playing Field
We like to talk about competing on a level playing field, but that does not exist. There are all sorts of advantages and disadvantages that come into play in sports. I was never the fastest, and I didn’t have the most stamina on the team. I tried my best, but other guys were more naturally gifted. They are the ones who made the first team.
The same thing goes for business. Your competition has different connections and relationships than you, as well as varying strengths, amounts of funding, or lack of it. You do what you can to compensate for deficiencies and leverage your assets. But don’t fool yourself, it was never even.
Persistence is Available to Anyone
We would kick off our soccer practice with a three mile run. Lots of players would dog it, but I would always run the full thing, while starters would walk half of it. I would go as hard as I could, and sometimes I would run until I puked. I may not have been good enough to be the worst starter, so I wanted to do my damnedest to be the reserve with the most heart, and that elevated me with the coaches.
I’ve never puked from my work, but over exhaustion was my lifestyle in the early years. I’d always strive to do things better than the competition, and sometimes that would mean working more, sleeping less, and sacrificing in a variety of ways. You’ve got to do what they won’t do if you want to beat them.