With all the Olympic spirit surrounding us these first few weeks of August, I am reminded of how many of the impressive skills of the athletes competing are also cornerstones of success off the playing field. As a former gymnast who spent 17 years training and competing, I have found that so many of the skills I learned and formed as I made my way through my own athletic journey have equipped me with valuable qualities that have fueled my success in my post-gymnastics life. Thinking specifically about sales, the entryway to sports business for so many, there are many interesting parallels (gymnastics pun intended) between situations dealt with in gymnastics, or other Olympic sports, and the sales arena. For example:

1. There is always more to do. In a sport like gymnastics, especially, women train on 4 different events. Within each event, there are dozens of skills, major and minor, that must be practiced countless times to enable the athlete to compete with consistency. Practices go on for hours, with athletes honing every single movement. Then, once a milestone is hit, a new skill mastered or a competition won, there is always something more to do – learn the next skill that’s even harder, or win at the next level of competition. Similarly, in any sales position, you can always do more. There are always more leads to call, more touch points to make, more creative marketing and communication to be devised, and more contacts to meet. The job never ends, and great sales people never feel like they’ve done ‘enough’ to kick back and let the wins roll in.

2. Life is full of ‘no’s’. Making cold calls all day and hearing more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’ is par for the course for most sales people, much like the mat burn on the face of the gymnast as she falls short on a new trick. In both circumstances, however, one must push on and persevere. Get back up and try the trick again. And again. And again. And in sales, make more calls – don’t just stop when you are told no. You can’t be discouraged or you will never get anywhere.

3. Having a goal is essential. Long term goals are important, of course, but even short term objectives (winning the next competition, closing 3 new deals by the end of the week) keep us accountable and striving to improve. Without having something tangible to work towards, it’s not uncommon for one to flounder and procrastinate, never really moving forward or backward. Being stagnant should be a scary thing to both a motivated sales person and an Olympic athlete.

4. Let your personality shine through. There is much subjectivity involved when dealing with others, whether they be clients, potential clients, or judges. Personality and relationships are essential to long term success. If two sales people have the same knowledge of the same product, but one is more personable and communicates better to a potential consumer, that one will likely get the sale. The same goes for an athlete in a subjective sport like gymnastics: if two athletes have the same skills and perform them with equal precision, the one that exudes more personality will gain an edge, and a higher score. No one can deny that they enjoy watching someone on the floor exercise who is smiling, dancing enthusiastically – enjoying herself – over someone that is stoic and lacks any showmanship. Sales and sports both have an element of theater to them.

As the Olympics continue over the next couple of weeks, I hope you are able to find some time to really stop and think about and appreciate everything athletics can teach us – even if we’re not participants. For me, just watching the Games brings with it a spark of motivation to make myself better every day. I think that’s why we all watch, isn’t it?

#####