My son swims for a small swimming club. He has trained with them for 5 years, and he has enjoyed taking part in inter club galas and county competitions for several years now.

It struck me as I sat watching him compete in a recent county league competition, how many parallels exist between success in swimming and success in business. Here are some of my observations.

  1. Swimming is an individual sport. No-one else can prop you up or take up your slack if you under perform on the day. Even if you are part if a relay team, no-one else can help you as you perform your individual ‘leg’ of the race. I see running a business similarly. Although you may work as part of a team or have associates to help you, none of them can influence you to the same extent as you influence yourself. It’s up to you to take ownership of your own performance and to acknowledge where your performance needs to improve.
  2. Anyone who has ever swum competitively knows how committed the training schedule has to be. And much of swimming training is very repetitive, up and down the training pool, hundreds of metres at a time. Up and down up and down. Some people give up, some want variety. Some don’t commit the time week in week out. It’s the same in business. There are repetitive tasks that have to be repeated and that sometimes feel thankless. Think of those sales calls, email campaigns, writing newsletters, attending networking meetings and correspondence. It’s easy to give up. Yet those who stick with it reap the benefits long term.
  3. Competitive swimmers take regular feedback on their performance from their coach. It doesn’t matter how well the swimmer thinks that they are completing their strokes and their turns, it’s the coach who can see the whole performance objectively and provide the valuable insights that offer the opportunity for targeted performance improvement. And this feedback comes regularly…not once a year at an appraisal! Business people need the same regular objective feedback in order to improve their performance; who could help you with this?
  4. Standing on the blocks waiting for the starting pistol is nerve wracking. I am always amazed at the nerves of steel that the young people show at swimming competitions. They focus, prepare, adjust their starting position and wait. If they flinch they are disqualified…however nervous they feel, they can’t show it. They learn to handle their nerves and face the race ahead. I meet alot of business people who are nervous and who say they lack confidence. In contrast to the young swimmers I see, they turn away from their fears and do their their best to avoid situations where they will be under pressure. And as such they miss the chance to shine, to lift their performance and to take on the challenge of business management head on.
  5. No swimmer wins every race they enter. I watch young swimmers swimming their heart out; often it is less about coming first and more about achieving a Personal Best. They focus on what they are doing, their technique and their own improvements. They don’t let the performance of others put them off or distract them. They learn to bounce back from temporary setbacks – they recover from an occasional disqualification or ‘DQ’. Business owners can become easily demoralised when they see a new marketing campaign from a competitor or find out that they are no longer the only business in the area offering a specific service or product. We can’t let that distract us or demoralise us. A successful business person looks beyond temporary set-backs and sees the hiccup as a learning opportunity on the road towards a bigger goal.


A lot of what I have written above relates to the mindset that a swimmer brings to their race . They have learned that winning and improving doesn’t come from a negative mindset fuelled by fear and comparing themselves to others. Instead they focus on their own performance, they learn to accept the next challenge and step out of their comfort zone on a regular basis and they use feedback to carft their skills. How might this mindset help us in business and what difference might it make to our achievements?