I had a day of sport yesterday, as many in the UK will have done, and it finished in a manner no-one could have predicted.

I’ll come back to the Cricket World Cup final as I had a more important sporting event to attend in the morning…my grandson’s football tournament.

I spent a very enjoyable few hours watching groups of 7 year olds (of widely varying abilities!), playing a sport simply because they love it.

What struck me most was the conduct of everyone at the event.

The players played fairly, apologised when they mistimed tackles and shook hands with their opponents at the end of every game.

The coaches and parents were encouraging their teams, but were equally encouraging and praising of the opposition, even when the result went against them.

Fast forward a few hours and I, like millions of others, was sat with my mouth wide open wondering if I had accidentally tuned into some elaborate hoax masquerading as the Cricket World Cup final. After all, this couldn’t really be happening like this…could it?

Once I was confident I wouldn’t need the services of A&E, I started to reflect on what I’d seen during the day, and I realised that if you need any convincing that business should look to sport in these difficult times, yesterday’s events provided it.

Here’s five reasons why and five sets of questions to ask yourself:

Teamwork

In the morning and the afternoon, I saw togetherness, shared desire, encouragement and praise, even when things were going badly.

I saw 7 year olds who had just conceded 6 goals in ten minutes being told how well they’d stopped 3 other shots. I saw a 24 year old professional cricketer, who allowed the opposition to get 9 of the 16 runs they needed in the first 2 balls of the 6 he had to bowl, be given encouraging words and reassurance by his captain and colleagues.

I’m sure we will hear in time, if they’re not public knowledge already, exactly what Eoin Morgan and others said to Jofra Archer, but I’m willing to bet it was totally supportive and reminded him of his abilities and character.

Trust

When you have 7 year olds playing football, there are a lot of kids who stand head and shoulders above their team mates in terms of ability. However, I still saw them passing to kids who lost the ball more times than they retained it, because their coaches had already instilled in them an understanding that they couldn’t do it all themselves.

In the cricket, England handed the ball to the least experienced member of the team to bowl the critical over. They sent out a batsman who was obviously physically and mentally exhausted because, they knew, they could trust those guys to step up and perform for the team when the pressure was on.

Purpose

Although the kids wanted to win yesterday morning, they were more interested in playing as well as they could to earn the recognition and praise of their team mates, parents and coaches. It is repeatedly stressed to them that winning is good, but playing the best they can is better.

The final game of the World Cup was not just the culmination of a six week tournament, it was the result of years of preparation, planning and practise. The players kept referring to the four years of work since the last World Cup, and that they had wanted to win the event on home soil. When things got tough, that shared dream kept them together as a team.

Skills Development

In the morning, the kids never stopped playing with the footballs. Trying little tricks with their mates or playing ‘keepy-uppy’. Their love of playing the game drove them to keep trying skills that were, at that moment, beyond them.

The players I saw later in the day had practised their skills right up to the morning of the game. In fact, Jofra Archer was practising while the game was in progress! Athletes, especially those at the elite level, will practise their skills every day to maintain their competitive edge and keep pushing for that extra 1%.

Responsibility

Kids football tournaments generate a lot of very one sided games, but I didn’t hear one player blame a team mate, the referee or the uneven pitch they were playing on for why they lost 5-0 in a ten minute game. All I heard was them talking about how they could do better.

If you watched last night, you’ll know that England had a ridiculous piece of good fortune in the very last over which had a major impact on the result. However, when interviewed, the New Zealand players talked about their disappointment, how well England had played and many other factors but not once did they try and place blame on a freak event beyond their control.

So why should business be looking towards my 7 year old grandson, his mates and elite athletes?

Before the end of this year things are going to get tougher. We all know it, the signs are crystal clear, we just don’t know how bad it will be. We are in for something far worse than the financial crisis if some of the economic commentators are correct.

So let’s consider the five areas I’ve outlined above:

Teamwork – when things get tough will your team pull together or come apart? Will the better performers be willing to help their less experienced or less able colleagues, or will they they take the attitude of ‘Well I’m doing my bit’?

Trust – if you manage others, can you trust them to perform or will you revert to micro management because you don’t have confidence in what they’ll do? If you’re in sales, will you trust your colleagues who have to deliver on the orders you get? If you’re not in sales, do you trust those who are, to up their game when the market’s more competitive?

Purpose – is there a shared vision for the business? Does everyone REALLY know why they are there and what they’re contributing to?

Skills development – do people practise their skills to avoid going rusty? Do they have the enthusiasm of 7 year olds and the desire of elite athletes to continually be improving?

Responsibility – take a look around you…do you see people who have grit and determination? People who will dig in and believe they can outperform your competitors? Or do you see people who will spend their time blaming market conditions, the world economy, politicians and ‘the company’ for any downturn?

If your answers to those questions are anything other than 100% positive, then now is the time to do something about it, and there’s two key areas which will make the most difference:

Managers – they need to be equipped to motivate their teams. They need to be able to share the sense of purpose and trust their teams to perform. If they don’t trust them now, they must get a plan in place to rectify whatever it is that leads them to be insecure about their teams abilities.

Salespeople – they need to have the desire and skills to drive revenue, even if the market is collapsing around them. They need to ensure that, like athletes, they can define best practice, measure themselves against it and then continuously strive for improvement. They need to demonstrate that they will keep going even when things are at their toughest.

If you believe your sales or management teams need any help with these areas then email me or call me. I’ll show how the structure, discipline, motivation and inspiration of sport can be applied in your business to take your teams to another level.