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9 things in common between tennis and business

Goran Kalanj, CEO

As a devoted sports enthusiast and a business owner, I am constantly rediscovering parallels between the two things I am very passionate about.

If I could perfectly combine them, I'd probably be writing this post from sunny Antigua, where I'd be playing tennis, relaxing while looking at sparkling blue waters and bright green rainforests. 

As I sit here in my office in Zagreb, I can't help but comparing the two things I am passionate about: business and tennis.

I love to compete. I've always been like that. Playing tennis was just something I loved to do and it's something I will always do. It gives me a chance to blow off steam and to recharge my batteries.

So here are some common truths between the game of tennis and game of business, from my viewpoint:

1. It's all in your head.

I's say that 50% of success in court comes from mental stamina. You need to balance talent, physical requirements and mind stability, but the last one is the key. Imagine this scenario: your opponent and you are two equally strong professional tennis players. You play for 2-3 hours and winning depends on 2-3 key points.

If you are experiencing a sunny day when everything's going well for you and you are cool and relaxed, no wonder that you are playing well. But, when you start losing, your hand gets stiff, your self-confidence starts rocking like a boat in the storm. This is when your mental stability comes to stage. Will you be mad at yourself and stop trying because match is already lost or will you find some extra strength, concentrate on each hit, run the fastest you can although no results are acquired, as you are losing points and opponent is a step ahead. Your persistence and the strength of your spirit is what you need to show. Winners are the ones who are the strongest in this.

Muhamad Ali once said that he doesn't count his sit-ups but that he starts counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count. In tennis, you count only the times when it is impossible to do well. It is quite easy to apply this to business. I've built a career in big companies and then started my own. It is easy to go to a meeting acting like a boss with a big name protecting your integrity. But when you become „a boss “, you're not. Because all you have is your knowledge and your unknown name. And to get pass through that phase, you need to have a strong and stable mind. And keep it that way along the path.

2. Keep your eye on the ball and dare to risk!

Before each shot, you need to visualize the whole course of the shot, where to serve, where will the ball go, form the whole strategy. The toughest part is turning the vision into reality with precise hits. That's how business works. I started my company with the vision and stubbornly went after it. Realisation is the toughest, as it depends on different factors that are all not in my power. Your need to dare and risk. To play to win points just by returning the ball is easy if opponent is weak, but if you have a good player on the other side, you need to pull the risk to win.

3. Business is like tennis. Those who serve well, win.

Good players use that moment when the ball is on their side of the court wisely. Serving your customers/consumers, listening carefully to their heartbeat is what matters the most, this is how you win.

4. There is no such thing as a sure thing.

To play a good game, you need to expect the unexpected and be fully concentrated, even when it seems easy and the point seems a sure thing. In business, there isn't a thing to be forgotten about. Financials, because obviously you need to have focus on that, good equipment-you can't buy lousy equipment and expect Wimbledon, marketing- because you need people to know about your great product/service, HR, R&D. It all matters.

5. Make sure to have your own signature

In tennis, it is quite important to own a variety of techniques. Player who has a good serve and volley but is weak playing from the base line is not a good player. However, specializing is important, having a few hits that are player's reliable assets in turning points. For ones it is forehand, for others service. For business, it is the exceptional utility, or the USP.

6. The art of war and opportunism

Good tennis players are strategic, they build their strategy according to the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. The key to success is execution of the strategy and they are ready to apply it with amazing speed and accuracy. In business, we exhibit similar know-how. We must understand the ins and outs of our industry and how we fit into it. We deliver with strategy and anticipate problems in the same fashion. And if your opponent hits a weak shot and you have a chance to hit a winner, go for it!

7. Individual does not mean Lonely.

Professional sport is individual sport where we see only the player, but what we don't see is a whole team: trainer, physicians, family. Great player rarely succeeds completely alone! Although I had a vision all along the way, I would be nowhere without endless support of my wife and the team of people who were proactive and moving the company forward.

8. Bad luck is a matter of wrong perception

I often hear that you need to have luck to be successful. I see factor of luck completely irrelevant. Luck or a lack of it can only speed up or delay success. Tennis players experience injuries which are by good part a factor of luck, but in the end the most persistent ones after injuries come back even stronger and this does not prevent them from having a successful career. In the end, all that matters is how much of YOU have you invested in something that YOU really want. This is what business is all about. Lack of luck is only an excuse for those who do not want to invest too much energy in some cause.

9. Have fun!

I love tennis, and I love what I do. To be honest, many times we all skip on the fun part of it. But, this is what keeps us going. Nurture the fun in everything you do, I'd say. I’ve had my company for 12 years now, there has been great times, the not so great ones as well. But every morning I wake up, I am happy and grateful for what we've accomplished so far.

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