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5 Business Lessons from Olympic Athletes

The 2014 Winter Olympics are underway in Sochi, Russia. For the next two weeks, the best athletes in the world will come together and compete for the ultimate prize—a gold medal. Many of these Olympians have trained for most of their lives and sacrificed nearly everything to get to this point.

Their dedication to their sport and pursuit of excellence holds many lessons for business owners. Here are a few that you can apply to your own ventures:

1. Setting goals

Olympic athletes keep their eye on the ultimate prize, but they also set smaller goals during the training process. They aim to skate 5,000 meters 1 second faster than last time, and then 1 second faster than that. In sports, the goals are clear—the athletes know when the race is and how much time they have to prepare. Business is more fluid, and there are often multiple goals you’re trying to achieve. But breaking down big projects into smaller goals will help get you there.

2. Coaching

Olympians use the best trainers and coaches to help them achieve their goals. Likewise, you can find a mentor who can “coach” you on aspects of your business. Identify the key areas where you’d like to build your knowledge and find someone who’s an expert in that discipline. Or develop a relationship with someone who has achieved what you want to achieve. Remember that your employees, including the high performers, need some coaching to bring out the best in them.

3. Developing the right mindset

Think about the fellow business owners in your field. You all likely have similar training. What sets the best athletes apart from others who train long hours in their sport is mindset. Olympians are optimistic—they truly believe they can win the gold medal, despite all odds. They are also extremely focused and thrive despite intense pressure. The key to sustained excellence is the development of mental toughness.

4. Bouncing back from adversity

Olympic athletes don’t win every event they enter. Many have faced serious setbacks, such as injuries or personal turmoil, only to come back stronger and more determined. They may give themselves some time to feel bad about a loss, but they don’t get bogged down by it. Elite athletes analyze a bad performance and develop a plan for improvement.

5. Celebrating success

After a significant achievement, Olympians take time to celebrate their victories. What good is all that hard work if you can’t enjoy the result? Be sure to celebrate your business’s successes, large and small, with your team. An added benefit is that it will help motivate your employees to strive for the next goal.

David Ligon can be reached at 865-766-3088 or by email at

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