What Can Entrepreneurs Learn From Sports Teams?

What can Entrepreneurs learn from sports teams?

I just finished watching Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on Sky Atlantic which licenses content from HBO Max. It’s a documentary that led me to compare entrepreneurs and sports teams on completion of the eight part series. 

I’ve no idea who reads these blogs, but if you’re from the UK and have no idea who I’m talking about the Lakers are the Los Angeles NBA team who ruled the 80s and had a hardcore rivalry with the Boston Celtics. It was all about Magic Johnson (the ever-smiling Laker) versus Larry Bird (the blunt and often unsmiling Celtic). 

It occurred to me when I sat down to write a new blog today that there were many parallels between sports teams and running a successful entrepreneurial venture. 

Sure, we all know that both frameworks encompass a team setup. But they are ultimately all about leadership.

What’s up, Cap?

There has to be a captain on every team. Someone the rest of the team looks up to. In this series at this junction in the franchise, the Captain of the Lakers (Cap) is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is softly spoken, often leaves himself outside of the rest of the group, and often willingly isolated himself to the point that many couldn’t approach him. 

Why was he captain? Most likely because of his stats as one of the all-time greats as an NBA centre. The TV series illustrated how he couldn’t stand season newcomer Magic Johnson, the wunderkind from Michigan who wanted to befriend everyone and take on the coach’s newfangled approach to winning. It took them a whole season to gel and understand one another and their approach to the game. 

It ultimately culminated in them winning the championship against the odds and creating a history-making partnership that may only have been beaten by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin of the Chicago Bulls. Don’t test me on my stats, I haven’t checked.

Treat Your Business Like a Sports Franchise

For a successful business, you have to work hard, put in the hours and make decisions that help build a solid foundation.

A strong team is a foundation you need when your SME progresses beyond working with You, Yourself, and Nobody Else.

As an entrepreneur or SME owner/manager, you are the force behind creating the winning culture that will propel your team to success and greatness.

Why should you treat your business like the equivalent of a sports franchise? There are quite a few similarities we would like to point out. They might not all feel like they apply to your business, but dig a little deeper and you will find resonance.


Your entire company needs to work together and believe in the bigger picture. Your Purpose, Vision and Values require that your team be on-board with their intent to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

When someone isn’t aligned with your stated intentions as a business it’s a recipe for disruption (and no, not the good kind) not to mention disaster.

A team needs to operate on the same playing field, so to speak. A common objective that drives everyone towards the same goals. Whether that’s winning the NBA Championship, the Champions League (for any US readers, this is the ultimate European Football Cup to win), or the Stanley Cup (shout out to any Canadians and NHL fans out there!).


Your team needs to function autonomously after a certain point so that you can lead, expand and grow your business. Everyone can contribute and play their part, but it’s imperative that you can delegate appropriately and ably without fear. 

If you can’t you are holding the business back and decreasing your own inherent value. 

Allocate the right people into the right places and you will be able to dedicate more of your time to being the visionary for your business and guiding it towards growth. 


Sometimes even teams with the most talented players can’t win. 

I’m going to go all Canadian here and use Wayne Gretzky as an example. Wayne is known to anyone who knows ice hockey as The Great One (and acknowledged as such by the Hall of Fame and black and white statistics). 

During his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers, he led the team to four Stanley Cup Championships. In a shocking move back in 1988, he left Canada and his Edmonton team to join the Los Angeles Kings. It probably helped that his new wife Janet Jones was an American actress who wanted to be in California.

California wasn’t known for hockey even though they had a team. Wayne did manage to transform the sport in the US Southwest single-handedly and even got them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, although they never won the Cup. 

It just illustrates that even if your team acquires the best person in the sport/industry/team it isn’t a guarantee that you will succeed or win.

For every Magic Johnson, there was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

And for every Michael Jordan, there was Scottie Pippin.

And for every Wayne Gretzky, there was Mark Messier.

What Steps Do You Need to Take?

Build a strong team. 

Talent acquisition and retention have never been more relevant than it is now.

A team that is experienced and has different skillsets will set you up to learn from one another and discover fresh ways to problem solve.

Failure will happen and it’s okay.

Failure is inevitable, and in fact, it’s how we learn the most tangible lessons. It’s how you react to and respond to failure that differentiates your future. If something isn’t working, move on and accept that it didn’t work that way.

Learning never stops.

It takes continual effort and practices for a sports team to keep achieving. The same can be said for your team and business.

Keep investing in yourself, your personal knowledge, and insights into your industry at all times. Growth is important for every business owner and entrepreneur. Never stop!

Final Thoughts on Entrepreneurs and Sports Teams

Finally, it may sound like a cliche to say that a business is like a winning sports team when they’re winning.

But the same can be said when the chips are down and things aren’t going your way. 

What half-time coach talk are you going to give when things look like they’re falling apart? What will you say to yourself as a pep talk and likewise, what will you tell your team to pick themselves up and plow on? This is where we see the correlation between entrepreneurs and sports teams.

The best coaches in the world know that some well-chosen words for your team, or indeed for your own inner voice, at the right time can make all the difference between winning or losing.