How sports made me a better entrepreneur

Before I graduated, I used to be very lean. So much that people were worried, I regularly checked in with my physician because I thought something was wrong. She assured me to wait until my mid-20s. It’ll rapidly change. So it did. Soon after I graduated from university, I started growing in size. This accelerated after becoming a father for the first time and peaked during the COVID crisis. Something had to change.

I was never the running type of guy (at least not until recently). Tried fitness, but I found it difficult to combine it. I loved swimming, but these were now closed… I wanted to find a sport where I could push my limits. I was suggested to try out cycling (by my mother-in-law). It was an instant match. I soon discovered it didn’t only positively affect my health, self-leadership and being an entrepreneur.

There are a lot of articles and books out there that go in-depth into the scientific aspects of why these improvements and positive effects helped me become a better entrepreneur. So I won’t repeat that. Just some quick highlights from my experience. My experience focuses on cycling, but since then I tried running (ironically since I was never that type of guy but now I do actually enjoy it from time to time)and other stuff which I liked a lot. The same principles apply.

I hope that it will help you to become more healthy and, as you become more healthy, to benefit from being a better entrepreneur or business leader. Because what applies to entrepreneurs would also apply to anyone with a high-demanding career and personal life.

Some of the key lessons I learned:

  1. Focus: there are casual riders, mostly enjoying the scenery. But I’m part of the other breed. We take cycling seriously. This means we participate in challenges, group rides and other amateur events. It means we love a challenge and more technical rides. During these, there’s a lot to consider: speed, power, cadence, pace, route,… These are important because they will make a difference between meeting your goal or not. But it also requires you to see through the noise. Distinguish what’s important from those that are not important.
  2. Start with the basics: many beginners think they can improve their skills by investing in tools. So did I. When I started cycling, I believed my bike was causing my lack of speed and power. If only I had better tools, I could go faster and further. It’s not. It was me. The only way to improve is to start with the basics and put in the time and effort to become better and learn.
  3. Work in bursts: you can’t go all-out (think power/heart rate zone 5 and above or VO2 Max) for a 4-hour ride. Not even for a 2-hour ride. You need to pace yourself. There are different parts in your route. Climbs, decent, flats,… take time to prepare yourself and find the moments that matter. Then give everything you have, recover and do it all over again. It works the same in business. You can’t be fully on the whole time. You need to concentrate your energy and focus on the moments that matter. Sometimes that requires you to change how you work.
  4. Push beyond your comfort zone: I remember the first time I went climbing with my bike (which is riding a hilly route with many steep climbs). Riding there felt similar to when I had just decided to become an entrepreneur. It’s a mix of excitement about what will come and fear of not knowing what will come. Now I try to go way beyond. I try to look for that thrill and challenge in doing new rides. If I had stayed within my comfort zone, I would have done nothing but flat rides around the block. Similarly, I would have still been employed and unhappy about my job. It required me to push beyond the uncomfortable to become an entrepreneur. And it still requires me to push beyond my new comfort zones, every day.
  5. To endure is to be more resilient: endurance isn’t only about physical capabilities. You must have the mental strength to endure if you truly want to go on a long, hard or steep ride and not give up after the first signs of difficulty. You will have ups and downs, and it’s the same with entrepreneurship. You need to be resilient and have the inner strength to stay the course and recover from your downs in time to be up again.…
  6. You need to get out there: I used to only do the round around my place. Because I knew the area, it took me a long before I ventured in other directions. What held me back was a lot of imaginary scenarios that could happen. I solved it by being prepared and just getting out there. There’s always a solution to whatever the world will throw at you. This is probably the most recognisable learning for every entrepreneur. The only way you get moving is to get out there and start doing. Yes, things can and will go wrong. But it’s always less bad than you imagine it, and you will always come up with a solution.

There are plenty more, but it’s already quite a long post. I hope you can recognise yourself, or it helps you to push beyond the status quo. Anything you learned? Please let me know!